Netiquette Guide for Online Courses

It is important for you as a student to recognize that the online classroom is in fact a classroom, and certain behaviors are expected when you communicate with both your peers and your instructors. These guidelines for online behavior and interaction are known as “netiquette”.

The purpose of the following information is to help you be a more effective and successful student when communicating via email, chat rooms, or on discussion boards as a part of your online learning activities in the Fogelman College.

Why Netiquette is important to you as an online student

Proper conduct in an online class is just as important as in a face-to-face classroom with similar potential repercussions for failing to maintain decorum.  Remember that in an online class it is common for a very substantial portion of your grade to be a function of how well you perform in online discussion areas and other “classroom participation” activities.  Your ability to clearly and properly communicate in an online class can be every bit as important to your success as how you perform on multiple choice tests and written assignments.

You can start by either:

“Soft” Misconduct vs. Misconduct with Concrete Repercussions

Some forms of online misconduct are merely bothersome to others with the impact being limited to your instructor or fellow students finding you annoying and their being less likely to take your thoughts seriously.  Other forms of online misconduct can potentially cross a line into the area of academic dishonesty and be treated no differently than cheating on an exam or plagiarizing a paper.  It is therefore important that you take these guidelines seriously as they can have very real impact on your success as an online student.  You want to avoid being guilty of misbehavior in both forms regardless of the level of impact.

Below are specific instructions on how to be the most positive and effective digital communicator that you can be in all areas of communication, but most especially in your online classes.


When communicating online, you should always:

  • Treat your instructor(s) with respect, even in email or in any other online communication.

  • Always use your professors’ proper title: Dr. or Prof., or if you're in doubt use Mr. or Ms.   (Corollary:  Make sure if you use a gender-specific title that you are clear on their gender.  Some names can be gender ambiguous.  When in doubt, go find a picture of them online.)

  • Unless specifically invited, don’t refer to them by first name.  Some will be OK called “Bob” and others will expect to be “Dr. Smith”.  

  • Use clear and concise language.  Be respective of readers’ time and attention.

  • Remember that all college level communication should have correct spelling and grammar.

  • Avoid slang terms such as “wassup?” and texting abbreviations such as “u” instead of “you”.

  • Use standard fonts that are optimized for online reading (e.g., sans serif) along with a consistent and readable size (12 or 14 pt.)

  • Avoid using the caps lock feature AS IT CAN BE INTERPRETED AS YELLING.

  • Limit and possibly avoid the use of emoticons.  Not everyone knows how to interpret them.

  • Be cautious when using humor or sarcasm as tone is sometimes lost in an email or discussion post and your message might be taken literally or offensively.

  • Be careful sharing personal information online (both yours and other’s).

  • If you are in a health-care course follow HIPPA guidelines including not sending confidential patient information via e-mail or posting online.


When posting on the Discussion Board in your online class, you should:

  • Make posts that are on topic and within the scope of the course material.  If necessary, re-read the instructions from your instructor.

  • Take your posts seriously and review and edit your posts before sending. (Would you put sloppy writing with poor grammar in a formal research paper?)

  • Be as brief as possible while still making a thorough comment.  Remember this is a discussion area, not a doctoral thesis.

  • Always give proper credit when referencing or quoting another source. (Corollary:  Don’t copy and paste another student’s post and claim it as original as that is essentially plagiarism.)

  • Be sure to read all messages in a thread before replying.

  • Don’t repeat someone else’s post without adding something of your own to it. (See corollary above regarding reuse of someone else’s post.)

  • Avoid short, generic replies such as, “I agree.” You should include why you agree or add to the previous point.  The point of a discussion in an online course is to help you and your other students learn through in-depth consideration of important topics.

  • Always be respectful of others’ opinions even when they differ from your own. When you disagree with someone, you should express your differing opinion in a respectful, non-critical way. (Corollary:  Do not make personal or insulting remarks.)

  • Be open-minded as that is one of the major points of participating in an open classroom discussion.


When you send an email to your instructor, teaching assistant, or classmates, you should:

  • Use a clear and descriptive subject line as a way to give them a reason to open your email.

  • Be brief.  Don’t make the reader have to scroll to read the entire message.

  • Put the most important part at the very beginning. They may not read it to the end.

  • Avoid attachments unless you are sure your recipients can open them.  This is especially important with many people using smart -phones and tablet PCs to view email.

  • Sign your message with your name and return e-mail address.  Make sure they know how to contact you back.

  • Think before you send the e-mail to more than one person. Does everyone really need to see your message?  (Corollary:  Be sure you REALLY want everyone to receive your response when you click, “reply all”.)

  • Similarly, be sure that the message author intended for the information to be passed along before you click the “forward” button.

  • If you are sending an email while upset or angry, think about not sending it until you’ve cooled off.  A 24-hour resting period is often a good idea.


Remember that your password is the only thing protecting you from pranks or more serious harm.

  • Always follow University of Memphis campus guidelines with respect to password security. Keep it private and never share it with anyone.  If you have questions, call the campus service desk at 901-678-8888.

  • Change your password immediately if you think someone else might know it.  (Call 901-678-8888 if you need help managing your password.)

  • Always logout when you are finished using any secured system - especially if you are using a shared computer in a public place.

Overall, you should use common sense when communicating electronically.  In the same way that you would present yourself in person to make a positive and constructive impression you should always do the same when taking an online course.  Remember that the majority of what we communicate to others is in non-verbal ways (body language, voice inflection, etc.) and all you have in online courses is in a text form. Make sure your digital impression is a clear and positive one.