AML in Print

Rules of Netiquette
--Point & Click--

By Lisa Mirza Grotts
February 2000

Not another set of rules! I'm afraid so. The Golden Rule your parents and teachers taught you as children was simple: Do unto others as you would have others to do unto you. This began with the basic courtesies of Please, Thank You and May I, and you were bound by your first of rules. Online, social graces are even more pronounced as there is no face to face communications, just the screen, words and more words.

As with any new culture - and cyberspace is a culture all its own - how to behave properly online is easy if you know the rules. If you don't, you're liable to fumble and perhaps offend your friends and colleagues without meaning to do so. To make matters worse, we tend to forget that with each point and click there is a human face on the other end, not just numbers and characters. WYSISYG (What You See Is What You Get)? You can't be sure online.

NETiquette, the do's and don'ts online, should be treated differently that other forms of daily communication. Creating a positive impression, just as you would in person, essential in cyberspace.

Although many Internet messages are short and informal, it helps to remember the following e-manners:

  • Always type in a subject with your e-mail.
  • Avoid typing messages entirely in capital letters. This is the equivalent of shouting and is considered offensive.
  • Don't sell or advertise anything on e-mail. This is called "spamming" and it's like sending unsolicited mail.
  • For informal e-mail's, perhaps to a family member typing a colon and a right parenthesis together is interpreted as a smile.
  • It's okay to send a message without a greeting or signoff if you and the recipient have that understanding. Otherwise, a salutation and a signoff are good form.
  • Don't pass on jokes or other sensitive materials, especially to large groups of people. It's in poor taste, plus they may contain viruses that may diminish the value of a relationship (not to mention a hard drive).
  • Don't use e-mail for formal invitations or announcements. A thank-you call, note of gift would be in first choice, but an e-mail thank you is better than none.
  • For special occasions (especially Valentines Day) a caring personal message is warmer and show more thought than an electronic greeting card.
  • Don't pass on long articles gleaning from the Internet. Most people don't want to spend hours staring at the screen. Better to use snail-mail or that old fassioned machine, the fax.
  • Do check your grammar and spelling. It's just as important here as it would be in a letter.
  • Remember that the "D" key does not mean delete. E-mail's have been proven to be discoverable in a court of law, so be warned: Never put anything in writing that you don't want to see on the cover of the New York Times.
Netiquette should also be adhered to for telephones, pagers and fax machines. For speakerphones, Big Brother and Sister could be listening, so watch what you say. Most executives prefer good old-fashioned receivers.

In New York City, some restaurants have "phone only rooms" so that others may eat in peace. How sensible. Today, many cell phones have voice-mail, which is ideal when you wish not to be disturbed, such as at the opera, a dinner party or in a meeting. If you must carry a pager in public, be sure to switch it to the vibrate mode. Incoming "beeps" can always be stored for later retrieval.

As for fax machines, don't clog up the lines with lengthy pages. Always attach a cover sheet explaining what you are faxing. Remember, it may be seen by any number of people, so if your savvy, you'll avoid discussing your supervisor's new haircut, making a tryst with your lover, or boasting about how you fudged on your tax return.

These hectic days, more than ever before, manners count. An old Italian proverb says it well: "A man's hat in his hand never did him any harm."