A Quick Guide to Netiquette:
Basic Courtesy on the Web

Jessica Snyder - Webmaster at Hollins College has kindly authorized us to post this for your information. There is a link to Hollins College website at the end should you wish to explore their site!

** E-mail ** Emotions ** Vocabulary ** Flaming ** Security **

E-mail courtesy

What people forget perhaps the most is that electronic mail is a true form of correspondence. Emily Post (Miss Manners), Dear Ann, and Dear Abby all emphasize the importance of writing good letters, and the fact that what you are writing exists only in long strings of 1s and 0s should not factor into what you write or how you write it.

For business correspondence, when posting your first messages to a newsgroup, or when sending an e-mail to someone you've never met or haven't corresponded with in a while, you should format your e-mail just as you would format a handwritten (or typed) letter:

Always begin with the addressee (Dear Webmaster; Dear Jane; My Dearest Professor Scrooge).

Identify yourself in the body of the letter. Many mail servers don't have the "scrolling" ability, and if you're writing from a web browser, your name very often won't appear in the header.

Sign your letter. Signatures are extremely important as well as courteous. If you've requested information or expect a reply, you must identify yourself and give your addressee a way to contact you. If possible, write a simple signature file with your name, your title, your email address, and your web page location if you have one. But don't go overboard with it.

Don't YELL or SCREAM. Words written entirely in capital letters are hard to read and, in the computer world, only signify force. All-caps does not add emphasis to your words, and it most often causes people to stop reading. SHOUTING also makes people defensive, and they are less likely to want to empathize with your words if you are trying to make a point. To emphasize your words, use _underlines_ or *asterisks*.

On the other hand, don't write with all small letters. it's distracting. readers tend to believe you don't think enough of yourself to allow yourself to use the more "important" capital letters. also always punctuate your letters no punctuation implies the same thing as all small letters and it makes long blocks of text extremely hard to read

Remember why you're writing. In most cases, you're trying to get something from your letter. Whether it's information or results, you want something from the addressee. Be specific about your wishes and be polite.

Brush up on your spelling and grammar. Nothing shows up more in e-mail (or, for that matter, in any type of correspondence) than atrocious spelling and poor grammar. People are more likely to treat you with hostility if your letters read as though you don't know what you're talking about. Proofread, spellcheck, hook a dictionary to your pocket protector. Do something to present your best side in your writing.

When writing for newsgroups, check out their FAQ (frequently asked questions) before posting. Each one may have its own set of style rules to follow.

** E-mail ** Emotions ** Vocabulary ** Flaming ** Security **

Emotions--too many, too few

Sometimes people just don't understand that when you call them a dirty dog they should take it as a compliment. Or maybe you've just written an e-mail to a classmate telling her "I really enjoyed the lecture on amoeba reproduction today" and you want to make it clear that you're not really an amoeba aficionado.

Emotions in letters aren't conveyed the same way they are through video (with facial expressions) or the way they are over the phone (with voice tone). All you have to let people know what you mean are your words.

Plus a certain collection of "smilies."

Smilies soften the blow of rejection. They let people in on private jokes. They can be tools of seduction, of humor, of anger, or of sugar rushes. Properly placed, a smiley will clarify your words, plus gain the admiration and trust of all who read your words. Well, maybe they're not that effective. But they are a lot of fun.

Basic smiley collection:
:) or :> -- the very first smiley :-) or :-> -- fancy smiley
:-( -- sad :'-( -- crying
>:-( -- angry <:-( -- worried
*:-) -- curly-haired 8-) -- smiley with glasses
:-0 -- agape :-\ -- uncertain
;-) -- winking :-@ -- extremely startled
$-) -- money-hungry :-P -- sticking tongue out

New smilies spring up every day, and they are now acceptable in almost any type of informal correspondence (we don't recommend using them in your resumé). They also seem to be springing up in handwritten correspondence even more than the ubiquitous vertical smiley.

However, beware of using these improperly. If you find you have to rely on smilies to get your point across in every type of correspondence, you're using them too much. You should let what you're saying with your words tell your reader everything s/he needs to know. Personal correspondence is the smiley breeding ground; business e-mail should remain barren.

** E-mail ** Emotions ** Vocabulary ** Flaming ** Security **

Computer and Internet vocabulary

The Internet has a completely different vocabulary from any other medium in the world. Understanding the basics goes a long way toward at least sounding intelligent in your correspondence.


Often called email or Email. Stands for electronic mail. It is the most common form of interaction through the Internet.


A page that can gather data from visitors to a web site. They often contain areas in which viewers can enter text or choose from a selection of options. Search engines are the most recognizable type of form, with a single text-entry area and a Find button.


Hypertext Markup Language, the language in which all web pages are written.

search engine

A program, such as Yahoo or AltaVista, that looks through thousands or millions of pages to find the word or words that you tell it to look for


Think of it as a big box that holds all the information for one web site, much like your hard drive holds all the information for your computer's applications and files. There is usually one server at a site, though large corporations will usually have several.


Stands for systems operator. Also known as sysad (systems administrator). This term is probably outdated, but it covers a lot of territory: administrator of an entire site, the moderator of a chat line, and the administrator of a newsgroup can all be called sysops. It's a lot easier to say (and type) than "guru of this piece of the web." Also, it's a lot more politically correct when addressing an e-mail than "Dear Sir."

"The Web"

World Wide Web, or the platform on which browsers operate. Think of it as the graphical interface for the internet, much like Windows is the graphical interface for DOS. However, as in the analogy, there are things to see and do on the web that are unavailable when you're browsing the internet through telnet, and vice-versa.


The site administrator. At colleges, s/he may be a student, a faculty member, or a member of the administration. At companies, s/he could be either an employee who has taken up the added responsibility of maintaining the pages or a "webmaster for hire," someone or a group of people who create pages for the company for a price.

** E-mail ** Emotions ** Vocabulary ** Flaming ** Security **

Group posting courtesy

You will probably want to interact with other people on the web. This is a big part of what the Internet is all about; making it possible for someone from Zimbabwe to order a pizza for someone in New York. This does require a bit of communication, despite the stereotyped computer nerds with no social skills and an overdose of science fiction reading materials.

Even setting aside e-mail, getting to know people on the web is incredibly easy. Every service such as America OnLine, Compuserve, and Prodigy has various chat rooms where you can talk to people in real time. There are also newsgroups on these services (also known as bulletin boards) where you can "post" a message for everyone to read and anyone to answer.

Talking to so many people at once brings with it a new set of rules and basic courtesy guidelines. There are new words for the bad things people do to one another, though I have yet to find a word for something good that someone has done, such as a "we miss you" post from every member of your newsgroup when you haven't posted for a while. Still, this new vocabulary covers a lot of things that first-time users may inadvertantly do to offend other users.

Here are a few things to watch out for:

Chain letters

Chain letters are not just for snail mail anymore, but in many places (as on the Hollins campus), sending one is illegal. They are annoying and usually pretty large. They can take up disk space, and if someone loses money because of one, legal action can be taken against the original sender. If you don't know what one is, consider yourself lucky.


Flaming is the "technical" term for computer-aided insults. They are usually harsh, repetitive, and low. They usually take place on a chat line or in a newsgroup (i.e. public flaming), though flames can be sent to a single person. Flaming is mean, stupid, and dangerous if outlawed by the sysop or group moderator. To avoid being accused of flaming, here are a few caveats:
  • Watch what you say, especially in public places.
  • Read what you've written before you press the "send" button.
  • Don't say anything you wouldn't want your grandmother to hear. You never know who's on the other end of the modem.
  • Moderate your conversation and its topics to follow the subject of the newsgroup.
  • Above all, read FAQ and guidelines for each chat area and newsgroup you join.


This is joining a chat group and then not participating in the conversation. You've just come on, and it's hard to know what to say, but you shouldn't log on and then listen to everyone else talk without contributing to the conversation yourself. If you're just looking around, let everyone know. Usually someone will greet you, but if they don't, let them know you're a newbie to the group and that you'll be checking it out this session.


A spam is sending a message, usually repetetive and useless, to a large group of people over and over. Many spams are set up to send once an hour, every hour, for an entire day or week. This is outlawed everywhere, and if you're caught, you could have legal action taken against you. Spamming takes up disk space and may cause some systems to lock up.

** E-mail ** Emotions ** Vocabulary ** Flaming ** Security **

Personal security

Safety on the web is a lot like safe sex. If you know what you're getting into and the consequences it will have, you'll always be able to make the right decisions. Except most sites on the web won't tempt you with chocolate-dipped strawberries and champagne.

No one can "get into" your computer from the web. If you don't have your modem set up to share, the sysop who yelled at you for posting a gardening tip in the Hell's Angels newsgroup will not be able to open up his web browser and delete all your fertilizer recipes. Many people are afraid to keep important documents on their computer or to make people mad because of this threat of revenge.

However, as stated in the guidelines above, the web is not a place in which to lose all your inhibitions. Watch out for anything that asks for your credit card number (never give this out over the web). Also, never give out your social security number or phone number. With these three pieces of personal information, hackers and other techies are able to commit all sorts of crimes never even dreamed of just a few years ago.

Personal safety on the web is a different matter, and, as in real life, to each his own. If you feel comfortable giving your address to the people with whom you've been chatting for three months, go ahead. But realize that you've never really met these people before. The Internet deadens our senses. In judging characters, we're usually able to use all five (touch, smell, sight, taste, hearing). But when you meet someone over the Internet, you've only really met their words. The 24-year-old grad student you've been corresponding with may turn out to be a 14-year-old high school freshman. There may be nothing wrong with corresponding with a minor, but if you've been planning to meet them for a year before you find out, the results could be embarrassing.

With a little information, the web is a wonderful place. Start with a search engine. Look for a topic you love or something you know nothing about. You're certain to find something about it. Meet people, share ideas, create a page for your company. The best way to learn about the web is to explore. Look after yourself and, most of all, discover something new.

** E-mail ** Emotions ** Vocabulary ** Flaming ** Security **

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