Why Netiquette Matters in College

Proper behavior and observing social niceties often go out the window when people find themselves on the internet. Suddenly, unleashed by anonymity, they completely drop even the pretense of civilized behavior.

Or worse, they behave in an outright uncivilized manner.

You don’t want to be that person.

That’s in any context, really. But it’s especially true if you earn a degree online. Practicing good netiquette skills will not only endear you to other students and the professor, but also help you learn more.

But why follow the rules outside of the fact that it’s simply the right thing to do?

Netiquette is central to making communication work over the internet and in online class discussion boards.

Nonverbal Cues are Nonexistent

About 80% of all communication between two people happens nonverbally. People pick up on facial expressions, tone of voice and body language to “read” what people mean in addition to the words they’re saying.

This is challenging to do. Sarcasm, irony and simply not saying what you mean do not work when communicating electronically. People can’t see you winking, rolling your eyes or smirking. Simple, straightforward communication is the way to go to avoid confusion or misleading someone.

The phrase, “say what you mean and mean what you say,” is good to remember when you’re on the web.

Without a commitment to clarity, message boards can turn into a hodgepodge of murky conversation, misunderstandings and even hurt feelings. Simple, declarative statements work best. That way, everyone can get the information they need quickly and accurately.

Anyone who has ever sat in a meeting with more than three to four people knows how hard it is to keep such meetings on track – and that’s when everyone is in the same room. Trying to collaborate on the internet is next to impossible without communicating clearly and using proper netiquette. Doing so will result in constructive, positive partnerships and teams in your course.

The lack of nonverbal cues can make it difficult to build relationships on the internet. But by following proper netiquette, you can build trustworthy relationships with fellow students. This can go a long way in helping form study partnerships and groups, all of which will lead to you doing better in class.

All the above also applies to communicating with your professors. They are dealing with an entire class online. Ranking last on their “things I need” list is spending time trying to decipher what students do and do not mean. In short: mean everything and be clear about it, or don’t type it.

Some Do’s and Don’ts

Here are netiquette guidelines to consider when participating in a course offered online.


  • Use proper spelling.
  • Read aloud what you’ve typed before sending it.
  • Be respectful of others and their opinions.
  • Say only what you would say face to face.
  • Ask questions without putting people “on the spot.”
  • Keep the tone of your words “turned down” – if something does irritate or anger you, don’t display it in what you write.


  • Use humor. Senses of humor vary, and one person’s joke is another person’s reason to become very offended.
  • Use sarcasm or irony.
  • Get personal when you disagree with someone.
  • Forward communication from someone without their permission.
  • Act as if you are 100% sure of something if you are not. Build credibility by admitting when you do or don’t know something.

Think about what you type, treat others with respect and check out the guidelines. You’ll discover soon enough the value of being the same nice person on the internet as you are in person.

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