As we journey deeper into an increasingly digital world, the social norms that come naturally in person don’t always have a clear translation online. Though communicating in virtual space is often second nature for younger individuals, it’s important to distinguish between behaviors in an online academic setting and a more casual space like social media (think about a quick bite at a fast-food restaurant vs. a four-course meal at a fancy restaurant with a formal dress code). Ultimately, the way we interact online is just as important as the way we treat each other in person- there is potential to connect, empower, or offend one another.

This netiquette checklist, put together by the Teaching and Learning Center at WCU has some basic guidelines and best practices for how to engage with others in online spaces.

1. Follow guidelines for discussion boards

Discussion boards are one of the most common forms of online interaction within courses. Before engaging, note the established guidelines – these can include length requirements, citation styles, and the proper form for starting new threads or responding to peers.

Rovai, A. (2007). Facilitating online discussions effectively. The Internet and Higher Education, 10, 77-88. 

2. Lurk before leaping – Read before you write

Have you ever been in conversation with another person who is clearly not listening to you? After you’ve made your point, they might ask you to repeat what you said, or even bring up the point you just made as if it is new information. This principle exists online as well, and it has a simple fix- lurk before leaping. Before we enter an online discussion, it’s important to get an idea of what topics have already been addressed before jumping in with a new idea. This tactic also helps you get an idea of how others are communicating with one another within the discussion.

Queens College Center for Excellence in Teaching, Learning & Leadership, Netiquette. Queens College, CUNY.

3. Be timely

Stay aware of the posting schedule for your online discussion boards. Some instructors require several posts to be made on different days. Make sure to give yourself enough time to meet participation requirements- even if it means writing your responses ahead of time and posting them later! 

Kimball, K. A. (2020). 5 timely tips for creating a community in online instruction. LinkedIn. 

4. Avoid emotion

It can be difficult to express your thoughts and opinions without incorporating the same choices you’d use in person, like elements of sarcasm or jokes. However, it is incredibly easy for readers to misinterpret these ideas in an online space- leaving sarcastic comments interpreted as rude, or jokes to be taken seriously. Aiming for humor can skew “the possibility of clear and stable interpretation in online contexts.” (Holm, 2021) 

Holm, N. (2021). Deadpan humour, the comic disposition and the interpretation of ironic ambiguity online. New Media & Society, 26(1), 253–270. 

5. Respect other opinions

Depending on the discussion topic and prompt, disagreement can quickly arise in online forums. Without face-to-face interaction, it can be easy to express a contrasting opinion. Just like ensuring politeness, it’s always a good idea to review your words before posting to make sure what you’re about to say doesn’t come off disrespectful. Remember, though disagreements can provide a different perspective, there is no debate winner in online discussion boards. A good phrase to keep in mind is “Express yourself without blaming”. (Cagle, 2021) 

Cagle, N. (2021). Quick Guide: Inclusive Online Discussions 

6. Stay on topic

Just like the real world, it can be easy for conversations to flow off topic in online discussion boards. Make sure to review your posts and responses to ensure you’re sticking to the question being asked. Reviewing the rubric for your specific discussion assignments can help to make sure your ideas meet the requirements and maximize the points you earn.

Cagle, N. (2021). Quick Guide: Inclusive Online Discussions 

7. Be polite

Though it may seem self-explanatory, there are different elements to being polite in digital space compared to in person. Discussions may prompt you to offer suggestions for improvement to your classmates- before posting, a good rule of thumb is to review the message and make sure you’re offering constructive advice- not harsh critiques. Graham explains there are “a unique set of expectations for what constitutes polite behavior in a computer-mediated setting. Deviation from these norms frequently results in conflict” (Graham, 2007) 

Graham, S. L. (2007). Disagreeing to agree: Conflict, (IM)politeness and identity in a computer-mediated community. Journal of Pragmatics, 39(4), 742–759. 

8. Be concise

Try to get your point across without rambling. Though you might be tempted to use filler words to reach a minimum word count, ensure your contributions to the discussion add value while flowing with your main idea. 

Lodwick, A. (2023). The power of being concise. ReviewStudio.,thought-provoking%20for%20your%20audience 


Capital letters certainly have their uses, yet overuse of capital letters in digital space can quickly blur the intent of your message. Though some might quickly interpret messages in ALL CAPS as angry or yelling, the truth is this- overuse of capitalization skews the intention of your message (Heath, 2018). To deliver your point in a clear fashion online, make sure your caps lock is off. 

Heath, M. (2018). Orthography in social media: Pragmatic and prosodic interpretations of caps lock. Proceedings of the Linguistic Society of America, 3, 55-1.

10. Respond thoughtfully

When responding, try to further the conversation by introducing new information or posing a deeper question about the topic being discussed. If you’re struggling to contribute outside of a simple “I agree”, try approaching the discussion from a different perspective- for example, if you’re looking at a case study on a company’s actions- put yourself in the shoes of an employee or customer. 

The most effective ways to respond to discussion posts. Harmonize. (2023). 

11. Stay organized

Make sure to take advantage of the discussion board set up- if you’re responding to a classmate, use the reply function- this will notify them, giving them the opportunity to follow-up and lead to a deeper discussion. It can even be a chance to network and make connections in the online classroom! 

DiRose, J. (2022). Organizing your online community. Discourse.

12. Attribute your quotes

If you didn’t write it yourself, utilize quotes to signal to readers that the material is outsourced. Follow your course specific guidelines for citing sources- use footnotes, in-text citations, or a works cited section.

Roberts, J. (2016). Chapter 5: News Writing Basics- #35. Attribution. Writing for Strategic Communication Industries.,a%20particular%20source%20was%20quoted  

Compiled by Nicholas Gavin