Netiquette refers to the guidelines for what is socially acceptable in a virtual environment. As many online courses require students to interact with one another, often over controversial issues, awareness of how we "sound" in a text-based discussion is essential.

Below are guidelines developed by the Center for Teaching and Learning that provide guidance in the areas of: communicating effectively, sustaining trust in an online community, being sensitive to diverse cultures, respecting others opinions and giving credit where credit is due.

Think Before You Write

When people cannot see each other, considering others' feelings may become secondary. Remember there is another person on the other side of your keyboard — be friendly, positive and self-reflective. This also applies to giving others the benefit of the doubt. You may find it helpful in the long run to give people a break when they may not have said something in a way you would have preferred, and reread responses in these instances before you post them. If you need to deal with an interpersonal issue, consider contacting the person privately rather than hashing it out in a discussion forum. Remember, to err is human and responding in anger is rarely a good idea.

This Is a Classroom

Even though you are online, it is important to remember that this still is a class. Consider the language you use to express yourself and the way to which you refer to people in this context. Would you use slang or profanity in a classroom? Would you refer to professors or classmates with other than their preferred names or titles? It may be helpful to keep in mind that the language you use to address others is often more a reflection of you than of them. Consider the ways you can use language to give people the impression you want.

Strive to Communicate Effectively

Say what you mean to say. One of the benefits of learning online is being able to think about discussion contributions before sharing them instead of having to contribute "on the fly." Take advantage of this to reread your discussion postings before you submit them (it helps if you do it out loud) to ensure you're saying what you intend to say. Consider where you may need to define or restate words to clarify understanding.

It is likely important to pay special attention to using figurative language. It's possible not everyone will understand what you intend, especially those for whom English is not their first language. It is likely helpful to be mindful of cultural differences in choosing if and how to use figurative language and idioms (such as "It's raining cats and dogs"), and to consider including additional explanations if you do.

Additional cues may also be helpful to convey the nuances of joking and humor. A clarifying comment or parenthetical such as, "hee hee," "I jest," or "my tongue is firmly planted in my cheek when I say this" may help others read your comments in the tone you intend. If someone misunderstands what you have said, taking responsibility for clarifying what you meant and, when appropriate, apologizing, can go a long way in earning and keeping good will in a discussion.

Read the Room

This first applies to getting a sense of the tenor of discussion in your online class. By now, you've likely developed skills at "reading" classroom discussions for whether a professor prefers a more formal or casual style. Professors online will likely model the kind of discussion contributions they prefer in their own postings. It may take a bit to develop a sense of a professor's preferred discussion style from their postings. Until you do, it is likely wise to err on the side of being more formal.

"Reading the Room" also applies to reading everyone's contributions to a discussion. Though you will likely not be required to respond to everyone in an online discussion, you are responsible for digesting what everyone says. This can help you learn and be successful in an online course. It can also improve how you present yourself. Consider when you've been in class and heard someone make a comment after not paying attention and the impression that made.

Ask for Clarification

If you don't understand the instructions for a discussion or assignment, or what your instructor or a classmate has said in a discussion posting, ask! Sitting in silence offended by or not understanding what has been said is not helpful. You can simply start by saying, "I don't understand..." or share what you think the person is saying and asking if your interpretation is correct. Keeping the onus for the misunderstanding on yourself can be more productive than accusing another of being unclear. Remember that the purpose of taking a class is to learn. If everyone already knew everything there wouldn't be much point in having classes. It's helpful to share understandings, misunderstandings, opinions, observations, experiences, ideas, perspectives and perceptions (when applicable to the discussion or assignment)...and helpful to explore, examine, clarify, and even correct them, if it is done respectfully and appropriately.

Give Credit Where Credit is Due

Online discussions often don't require the formality of in-text citations and reference lists, but it is still important to note when you have used others' words or ideas. The online format makes it easy to link to online sources you have consulted or quote. This not only is good practice for participating in academic discourse, it can keep you out of academic integrity hot water...particularly as tools for detecting academic integrity infractions become more powerful. It is important to remember that copying and pasting from Internet sources without noting the source and using quotation marks is an academic integrity infraction for which you can be held accountable. If you are in doubt about how your instructor wants you to reference others' words or ideas in online discussions, ask.

The Golden Rule of Netiquette

You may be familiar with the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Applied to online communication this becomes the Golden Rule of Netiquette, "Do not say or do things online that you would not say or do offline."