Netiquette for Online Learning

Online communication lacks verbal and non-verbal cues such as intonation, gestures, stance, and facial expressions that are a regular part of face-to-face communication.  The absence of these cues can quickly lead to misunderstandings in the online environment.

“A student receives a message open to interpretation, lacks the nonverbal inputs necessary to help interpret the message appropriately, assigns faulty attributions to the message, and fires back with anger and name calling in the classroom” (Lewis, 2000).

How does a faculty member prevent or decrease online miscommunication?  To reduce the occurrence of misunderstandings and to promote an online environment where students feel safe, teachers should establish a netiquette policy for their online courses.

Consider the following examples from the literature about online teaching as you shape your netiquette policy. Remember to model good netiquette as you communicate with your students.

Chat Protocol (Hurst &Thomas, 2004)

  • Allow each learner to complete his/her thought before responding—this means do not interrupt or intrude with your thought while another is speaking.
  • Be patient; not everyone has advanced keyboard skills.
  • Avoid having side conversations; it’s rude not to pay attention.
  • Signal when you’ve finished a statement [some use a happy face  :) to signal they have completed their input].
  • Signal when you don’t understand something; use a question mark to get the facilitator’s attention.
  •  Signal your “reactions” by using an exclamation mark (!) for surprise or a sad face for disagreement :( or some combination of symbols.
  •  Do not leave your computer during a scheduled session; it is impossible to get your attention if you leave the room.
  • Officially sign on and off so that everyone knows when you are present.
  •  Keep statements brief and to the point; the chat box has a limit of 256 characters per statement; you can keep talking but in spurts.
  •  Prepare notes and key ideas ahead of time so that you can engage in the discussion without trying to figure out how to word your statements.

Expectations and Guidelines for Interacting in the Online Environment (Stavredes, 2011)

The following guidelines should be followed each time you interact in the course to insure your interactions are respectful and professional:

  1.  In all your interactions, remember that there is a person behind the written post, who has feelings and can be hurt by what and how you interact with him or her.
  2.  It is easier to say something online when you do not have to look the person in the eye, so never post anything that you would not say to the person face-to-face.
  3. Adhere to the same standards of behavior online that you follow in real life, which includes acting ethically and following rules and regulations.  If you would not steal in real life, then you should not steal online by taking other people’s ideas and using them as your own.
  4. Respect other people’s time and bandwidth:
    a) Take time to understand the requirements of the discussion.
    b) Do not waste people’s time by asking questions that are not relevant to the discussion or questions whose answers can be readily be found in the course with a little effort.
    c) Refrain from disagreements that lead to personal attacks.
  5. Make yourself look good online:
    a) Take time to check your spelling and grammar.
    b) Prepare for discussions prior to engaging in them.
    c) Refrain from inappropriate language and remarks.
  6. Share your knowledge by offering help to learners who have questions.
  7.  Help keep flame wars under control by not posting flames and not responding to flames – keep discussions professional.
  8. Forgive other learners’ mistakes and be patient and compassionate of all learners in the course.

The WRITE Way to Communicate Online (Lewis, 2000)

Lewis’ advice about the Write Way to communicate is directed to teachers, but it could easily be adapted for students.

“The WRITE way involves communicating online in a manner that is (W)arm, (R)esponsive, (I)nquisitive, (T)entative, and (E)mpathetic.”

Warmth – “Being warm online is a way of reminding others (and you) that it is people who are engaged in communication, not software”

Responsive -- “Try to return personal messages as soon as possible, and set up a regular rhythm of communication for other responses.”

Inquisitiveness – “Defensiveness is reduced if people ask questions rather than make statements.”

Tentativeness – “A question – framed in a tentative manner – reduces defensiveness and can also contribute valuable information (e.g., ‘Don’t you think it’d be better if we . . . ‘).”

Empathy – “. . . put yourself in the shoes of your audience.”


  • Hurst, D. C., & Thomas, J., (2004). “Developing team skills and accomplishing team projects.” In T. Anderson & F. Elloumi (Eds.), Theory and Practice of Online Learning (pp. 195-240). Athabasca, AB: Athabasca University.
  • Lewis, C., (2000). “Taming the Lions and Tigers and Bears: The WRITE WAY to Communicate Online.” In K. Anderson & B. Weight (Eds.), The Online Teaching Guide: A Handbook of Attitudes, Strategies, and Techniques for the Virtual Classroom (pp. 13-23). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
  • Stavredes, T., (2011). Effective Online Teaching: Foundations and Strategies for Student Success. San Francisco: Wiley.