Revised: 14 December 2008
Added 15 October 2004
Isn’t it annoying when people send you e-mails that don’t contain any punctuation? Or when you are sent an e-mail which has 300 recipients, and you scroll down through all the names to find a one-line message at the bottom? Honestly, some people should use a bit of Netiquette!
What is Netiquette?
Internet Etiquette, or ‘Netiquette’ is the unofficial ‘code of conduct’ for Internet users; a guide to avoiding inadvertently offending those with whom you communicate by e-mail and other electronic means such as chat rooms, instant messengers and message boards.
Blind copying, or ‘BCC’ is a useful way of hiding the names of the recipients of an e-mail. There are two main reasons for using the ‘BCC field’:
- to keep e-mail addresses private (so that the recipients aren’t able to copy the e-mail addresses of everyone else on the list)
- to prevent long lists of names appearing when printing or forwarding messages – some recipients get so irritated by long recipient lists, that they just delete the message without reading it.
If you can’t see the BCC field when you open up a new message in Outlook, simply click VIEW > BCC field and it will appear. It will then show up on all new messages, unless you choose to hide it again.
When people type messages which are all in capital letters, e.g. with the Caps Lock on, it is referred to as ‘shouting’ and is considered very rude indeed.
Use Appropriate Language
Just as in face-to-face communication, adjust your language according to your audience. Avoid swearing or using abusive language, don’t write anything which could be construed as sexist, racist, homophobic or comments which could incite arguments (flaming)
Rules of punctuation still exist in e-mails. When it comes to punctuation, you should treat an e-mail in the same manner as a formal written letter. Lack of punctuation not only makes a message very difficult to read, but also makes the writer look very unprofessional and, on occasion, a bit of an idiot.
An emoticon is a graphical representation of an emotion. The most common of these is a ‘smiley’ – :o) When looked at sideways, it looks like a smiley face. These should not be used in formal communication, but are sometimes useful in very informal chat situations where a message you mean as a joke may be misunderstood, or otherwise be deemed rather impolite. There are many different emoticons and many lists of them can be found on the Internet, simply by searching on the word “emoticons”.
Post in Haste, Repent at Leisure
If you receive an e-mail which annoys or upsets you, don’t respond to it immediately. Print it out and keep it for a while. With e-mail, it’s too easy to whip off a tart response in seconds, hit the ‘send’ button and…..”damn, I got it wrong, I didn’t mean that”. Too late. It’s gone, and it’s almost certain you can’t get it back. Always think before you reply.
Flaming is where people make personal (written) attacks, especially in chat rooms, rather than sticking to the topic of conversation. Flaming should be avoided at all costs, because it spoils the conversation for other members of the group. Sometimes, flaming occurs because of a misunderstanding, for example when someone has been SHOUTING in their messages.
Beware of ‘Reply All’
Beware of defaulting to use the ‘reply all’ button all the time. Only use ‘reply all’ if your reply is important to all the recipients. Also, using it too often can lead to automatically replying all with an email not intended for all recipients – very embarassing and a sticky situation to have to escape from.
Avoid Embarrassing Emails
It’s easy to accidentally hit ‘send’ when a message was not yet ready to go This can be quite embarrassing, especially if you’d intended to change the text later before sending the mail. Since it’s difficult to disable the ‘send’ button, you should make sure the message does no harm even if you hit that button accidentally.
- leave the address field empty, or
- address the message to yourself while you are still composing it.
Only enter the final recipient when you are absolutely ready to send the mail.
Spam is, quite simply, unsolicited junk mail. The name ‘spam’ comes from a Monty Python sketch where, on the menu in a cafe, everything comes with spam.
Some people are lucky enough not to get any spam at all, others may get hundreds of unwanted messages a day. Users of the Parliamentary Intranet benefit from a spam filter, which does catch most of the rubbish before it gets to your inbox.
Spam does not necessarily have to come from unknown sources, a lot of spam comes from friends in the form of jokes and ‘sillies’, which they send to all of their friends, who in turn send it to all of their friends. Before you know it, your e-mail is full of the stuff and you’ve got no work done. If a friend starts sending you unwanted e-mails, ask them to stop.
However, you must never click on an ‘unsubscribe’ link (or any other links) in messages from unknown sources, as you are just confirming to the spammer that you exist, and you’ll probably end up on even more junk mailing lists.
If you receive spam of a racist or obscene nature, especially if it involves children, you can report it (anonymously, if you prefer) to the Internet Watch Foundation (www.iwf.org.uk) who will investigate and take appropriate action.
There is a famous cartoon from the New York Times, showing two dogs at a computer, and one says “On the Internet, no-one knows you’re a dog”. We can’t reproduce the picture here, for copyright reasons, but you can find it easily enough by searching on the Internet. Although it’s funny, it’s also a very serious warning.
People you may chat with by e-mail or in chat rooms may not always be who they seem. Anyone can be nice in such an anonymous setting, but how would you like it if those people started knocking on your door, or phoning you? Don’t ever give out personal details such as phone numbers, e-mail addresses, or information about your family, school or workplace. There have been many cases of personal details being abused, causing great distress to the victims.
Office Email Policy
You may find it useful to establish an office email policy, which can incorporate the above and any other rules for using email you think appropriate for your office and staff (seek colleagues’ opinions first of course). All employees should sign off on having received the information once it is finalised.
You might consider:
- how restrictive you should be on the use of email for personal reasons at work. Your policy may like to emphasise that the use of the domain name (@parliament.uk) should be reserved for work-related emails and emails to colleagues only.
- whether you will require all employees to have an email signature.
- whether to establish a policy for deleting messages.
- when to use email and when to use post – is your MP happy for you to contact constituents via email if they have emailed you, or should a letter always be sent?
- Do not allow the employee to pass off personal views as representing those of the party or parliament – include a disclaimer under the email signature, along the lines of:
NOTE: Information in this email is confidential and may be privileged. It is intended for the addressee only. If you have received it in error please notify the sender immediately and delete it from your system. You should not otherwise copy it, retransmit it, use or disclose its contents unless permission to do so is explicitly stated. Views expressed in personal emails do not necessarily reflect the position or opinion of the Labour Party/Conservative Party/Liberal Democrats.
Further reading : The Core Rules of Netiquette, by Virginia Shea
CD December 2008
KL October 2004