Rules of Etiquette for Online Courses

In an online course, you will experience a new kind of social interaction. Based on this, online courses have their own rules for interacting with others. This guide is intended to be an overview of appropriate "etiquette" for interaction.

One of the main features of an online course is that communication occurs primarily by means of the written word. Because of this, the body language of the speaker and the audience, voice tone, and feedback from a listener are all absent. Take this into account both when contributing messages to a discussion, as well as when reading them. Keep in mind the following points: 

  • Tone down your language. Given the absence of face-to-face clues, written text can easily be misinterpreted. Avoid the use of strong or offensive language and the excessive use of exclamation points. If you feel particularly strongly about a point, it may be best to write it first and review it at a later time prior to posting it in order to remove any strong language.
  • Keep a straight face. In general, avoid humor and sarcasm. These frequently depend on cues absent in text communication or familiarity with the reader.
  • Be forgiving. If someone states something that you find offensive, mention this directly to the instructor. Remember that the person contributing to the discussion is new to this form of communication as well. It is very possible that the offense was unintended and can best be cleared up by the instructor.
  • The recorder is on. Think carefully about the content of your message before contributing it. Once it is sent to the group, there is no taking it back. Also, although the grammar and spelling of a message typically are not graded, they still do reflect on you, and your audience might not be able to decode misspelled words or poorly constructed sentences. It is a good practice to compose and check your comments in a word-processor prior to posting them.
  • Test for clarity. Messages often appear perfectly clear to you while composing them, but may not make sense to your reader. One way to test for clarity is to read your message out-loud to see if it flows smoothly. If you can read it to another person before posting it, even better.
  • Netspeak. Although electronic communication is still young, many conventions have already been established. DO NOT TYPE IN ALL CAPS. This is regarded as shouting and is out of place in a classroom. Acronyms (such as FYI) and emoticons ( J ) are popular, but excessive use of them can make your message difficult to read.

A Course is a Course

If you have participated in other forms of electronic communication, you may already be familiar with the previous points. But online courses also have some limits not present in these other areas. So keep in mind the following points:

  • Remember your purpose. An online classroom is still a classroom, and comments that would be inappropriate in a regular classroom are likely inappropriate in an online course as well. Treat your instructor and your fellow students with respect.
  • Brevity is best. Be as concise as possible when contributing to a discussion. Online courses require a lot of reading, and your points might be missed if hidden in a flood of text. If you have several points that you want to make, this might best be accomplished by posting several specific messages rather than a single, lengthy, all-encompassing manifest.
  • Stick to the point. Contributions to a discussion should have a clear subject header, and you need to stick to the subject. Don't waste the time of others by going off on irrelevant tangents.
  • Read first, write later. Don't add your comments to a discussion before reading the comments of other students unless your assignment specifically states such. Doing so is tantamount to ignoring your fellow students and is rude. Comments related to the content of previous messages should be posted under them to keep related topics organized, and you should specify the person and the particular point you are following up on.

Citations and Other Netiquette Sources

Many of the points made here were taken from The Core Rules of Netiquette excerpted from the book Netiquette by Virginia Shea, which can be found at

Further information was taken from The Net: Netiquette.