A call for online manners

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By Erika Weisensee

Americans are spending more time than ever online, recent studies show. It goes without saying, more and more of our communication is happening in cyberspace. Emailing, instant-messaging, blogs and message boards provide ample ways for us to put our ideas out there. Unfortunately, when it comes to Internet communication, many of us don’t mind our manners.

From not responding to emails to not greeting or thanking people, we seem to ignore common courtesies online. Maybe, we’re in such a hurry we just don’t take the time to be polite, or maybe we don’t think it’s necessary. Yet, in a forum where messages can spread like wildfire, and in a time when online communication is the preferred method of most businesses, this seems especially risky.

When writing letters, most of us were taught to begin with a greeting and end with a polite closing, but we often neglect these courtesies in email. As a result, messages can seem abrupt and even demanding. How about slang, abbreviated and ungrammatical language, and the habit of some to write in all caps or in all lowercase letters? These and other online faux pas have spawned a new buzzword, “netiquette,” or online etiquette.

Websites like www.emilypost.com and www.netmanners.com offer guidelines for proper behavior online. Here are a few tips from the experts:

1) Don’t keep people in suspense. Especially when emailing for business, use the “subject” line to give people an idea of what the message is about.

2) Include a short greeting in your emails. A simple “hello” can go along way in creating a tone that doesn’t seem terse.

3) Send mass emails sparingly, as many people find them annoying. If you must send an email to multiple recipients at one time, try and avoid listing everyone’s email addresses in the “to” field.

4) Spell check emails if possible, use upper and lowercase letters, and avoid abbreviated language in business.

5) Use the “cc” line sparingly. Overuse of the “cc” line can give the impression that you’re a busy body in the office, getting everyone involved in something that can be handled by two people. Similarly, don’t “reply to all” if it is an issue relevant to just one person.

6) Be careful what you forward. Make sure you’re not passing on information that the original sender meant for only you. In the workplace, forwarding jokes, political, religious, and certainly any lewd content can lead to trouble.

7) Sign your name. A brief closing along with your name is always a nice touch.

### – Erika Weisensee is a writing mom. She teaches journalism classes at the University of Portland.