Netiquette – How To Mind Your Manners Online

I’ve just finished reading a really useful article by Craig Thomler on his blog eGovAU entitled Digital etiquette – are government agencies adequately prepared to engage appropriately online? I won’t reproduce it here but it is the basis of what I want to share and I recommend a visit to eGovAU to read it in full.

In Craig’s article, he links to the University of Wollongong’s ‘Netiquette Guide’ for students using their chat rooms. I’ve reproduced it below with a few comments in red.

The Guide: Netiquette – How To Mind Your Manners Online

A quick guide for students

Stick to the topic

When you are in an online discussion, keep your ideas focussed on the ideas being discussed. If you want to express a new idea you might put in a new subject title or start in a new thread. Show me what it looks like!

Subject titles

Name your postings with a title that lets people know what the message is about. Show me what it looks like!

Keeping it short

You don’t have to share everything you know about a topic. Keep your message short enough so that it can be read on a single screen and without scrolling.

Use emoticons 🙂

Online communication can lose the subtle gestures found in face-to-face talk, such as a wink or a nod. While not appropriate for formal academic communications, emoticons can reflect your personality and help people realise what you mean when you make a humorous comment. For example: I’m joking 😎 or 🙂 or Isn’t it sad! 8-( or Wink! 😉 You can Google emoticons for more. Be aware that not everybody understands emoticons; only use them when you know the readers will understand.

We are yet to add emoticons to Bang the Table, though it is something we now intend to do. I think a reason to introduce a limited range of cartoon like emoticons is that the 🙂 type of stuff is not a universal language as noted above but a smiley face is hard to misunderstand.



This is the one we encounter the most. Everyone wants their view to stand out and some people, perhaps less accustomed to chat on the web, don’t realise that far from emphasising their point writing in capitals can detract from it, putting people off before they even read the content. I guess it’s a bit like writing in red!

Share the floor

Not everyone can get online regularly, or has the confidence to post ideas often. Bear this in mind and try not to dominate the discussion. Give others space and time to reply so everyone has an opportunity to be heard.

I am not sure about this. One of the benefits of using the web as a discussion platform as oppose to a public meeting or a face to face event is that you cannot drown out others in a web discussion. We have many examples where individuals use multiple postings to try to force a point across but I believe that this, far from putting others off, encourages people to argue with them. Certainly I see no evidence that this puts off people who just want to make one comment.

Reply to messages

When you’re responding to someone’s posting directly, you might like to include all or part of the message you’re replying to in your own message. Use the “reply/quote” function to do this.
I think it would be positive to suggest that when replying this should be done in a friendly tone and users should seek something to praise before making criticism. Of course this will not always be possible but, just as this is effective in face to face communication, it does wonders for constructive discussion in a forum.
If there is nothing to praise just a statement to acknowledge the legitimacy of the views of others goes a long way.

Reply privately

When you have something to say directly to the author that may not be interesting to the whole class, reply just to that person using the “Reply Privately” function. They will receive your message in their Vista mail box.

Check it’s ready to “Send”

Re-read your ideas and tidy up the punctuation, sentences etc. When you’re satisfied, hit “Send”. Never hit “Send” when you are responding in anger; draft it in a word processor and sleep on it.


“Flaming,” or flying off the handle and ranting at someone else is unacceptable; it’s the equivalent of having a tantrum, something most of us wouldn’t do in an onsite, face-to-face classroom.

When flaming escalates into a heated online discussion or “flame war”, it is very offensive to other readers. Avoid saying anything that may offend another person. If you see it happening report it to your lecturer, tutor or subject co-ordinator.


Plagiarism, cheating and other violations of ethical student behaviour are serious actions in a learning community. You should expect to be treated accordingly.

Make yourself aware of University policies, if you know the rules you won’t go wrong.

To date the Bang the Table’s guidance to users has been more about using the site and rules than offering guidance on netiquette. However, reading Craig’s blog made me realise that this is a gap in our service offering. Many of our users are not web regulars and a good deal of the poor behaviour we encounter is unintentional. This particularly applies to writing in capitals. This comment appeared in a consultation we hosted for Newcastle City Council just over a year ago after I asked a user to refrain from shouting, I guess he showed me a little netiquette too:

matt, the reason fot the capitals is that i had to put the caps lock on to fill in your code, which is all capitals! so it was easer to stay in capitals all the time.

I was not aware that caps mean shouting.

Your admonition in the form of the phrase “We ask that you keep the tone of the conversation civil” assumes incorrectly that I was deliberately “shouting”, which was not the case at all! Is this a demonstration of a personal attack?.

IMHO a more polite way of expressing the comment may have been “We ask that all respondents ensure that capitals are used sparingly in recognition of the convention on capitals”.

For the record our code does isn’t case sensitive! I’m thinking that a near term addition to our website will be the Bang the Table Netiquette guide. Thanks Craig for highlighting this issue.

Photo Credits: mmatins

Thanks for getting all the way to the bottom! Subscribe to our monthly newsletter if you’d like to be kept up-to-date about community engagement practice globally. Take a look at our two product websites: EngagementHQ if you need a complete online engagement solution, and BudgetAllocator if you need a participatory budgeting solution. Or get in touch if you have a story idea you think is worth sharing.

More Content You Might Like