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Netiquette—a combination of the words network and etiquette—means acceptable or recommended behavior in an online learning environment. Why do we need to discuss this? There are some important differences between face to face communication and online discussions for most students: you cannot see visual cues (someone’s posture or facial expressions) or hear audio cues (tone of voice). Because all of this is missing when communicating through discussion forums, it can be difficult to tell what the intent of someone else’s post is in an online learning environment and this can lead to misunderstandings. The following guidelines are intended to help you understand the differences and communicate in a way that minimizes the chances of misunderstandings:

  • Prepare to be challenged! Others will have differing opinions and beliefs. Keep an open mind on their opinions about your ideas. 
  • Keep a positive tone. Everyone in your class is there to learn, just as you are. Discussions are a great way to understand different perspectives. If a conversation remains positive then it is a lot more likely that everyone will get something useful out of it. Avoid any language that can be construed as angry, sarcastic or even humorous. 
  • Don't take things personally. As mentioned above, there is no way for you to know for sure what the person writing intends. Given that the discussions are supposed to be a community building experience, assume that the responses are meant to be helpful. If you have questions about a post, contact your instructor. 
  • When in doubt, take a break before posting. If you do find yourself becoming emotionally involved in the discussion, it is a good idea to take a break for a half hour and revisit what you are about to post with an eye to how others would interpret it. Once you post a message there is no deleting or taking it back. 
  • Put yourself in the place of the reader. If you would be uncomfortable reading what you have written, then it is probably a good idea to revise before you post. Sometimes reading the message aloud to yourself or someone else helps you better understand how a message will 'sound' to another person. 
  • Use emojis/emoticons/smileys to convey emotion. If you want to convey emotion in your posts, you can do so by using emojis where appropriate. If you are not familiar with using these in email or text, look them up online. They are great way to convey how you are feeling in a glance. 
  • Avoid strange fonts, colored fonts, and large type sizes. Your posts should be all about readability. The easiest way to accomplish that online is to use a font similar to everyone else. Stick with fonts like Times New Roman, Arial, Helvetica, in 11 to 14 pt. as these are the easiest to read on a monitor. Also avoid colored text as it makes your message less readable, and some people have difficulty reading colored text against a white background. The best choice is to stay with the same sort of font that your online course environment uses. 
  • DONT WRITE IN ALL CAPS! It gives the appearance of yelling and is difficult to read. That said, SOMETIMES caps can be used to place emphasis on a word. Above all, be creative and enjoy your interaction with your peers! Discussions can be the best way to not only learn the materials but to build relationships with others that go beyond the class itself!
  • Be patient, few are online 24/7. Remember that all of the people in your course have lives outside of the class. If you ask a question or need clarification, it may be a day or two before you get a response. Look for your instructor’s response policy in the syllabus.
  • Help others. You are all in this together. If someone in the course has a problem with the system or needs help in another way, consider offering assistance.