Professionalism and Etiquette: Netiquette in Online Graduate Courses

Professionalism and Etiquette: Netiquette in Online Graduate CoursesIt is important 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.

Writing will be your primary means of communication in your online courses. You may be assigned videos and screencast presentation projects on occasion, but these mediums will also expect you to follow the rules of professionalism and etiquette – so it is important to know what is expected of you as a graduate-level student.

What is netiquette?

Netiquette or “network etiquette” is the term for the proper way we communicate and interact with each other online or via email. It helps define the guidelines of expected behavior, and aids in showing respect and consideration to others.

Six tips for good online communication:

1. Address your instructor properly

Your instructor should note how they would like to be addressed in their introductory message. If they don’t mention it, as a sign of respect, instructors should be addressed as Dr. if they have a terminal degree, and if not, Mr. or Ms. is the accepted norm. First names are only used if the instructor expressly wishes to be addressed this way.

2. R-E-S-P-E-C-T one another

The golden rule of online education is the same as in life. Treat others as you’d like to be treated. Be professional in what you say and remember there is a human on the other end of your message. Imagine how you’d feel if you were in the other person’s shoes, and respect one another above all.

3. Watch your tone 

The online medium is poor at conveying tone, especially sarcasm and humor. Take a moment to re-read everything you write: assume that it will be taken in the worst possible light. And conversely, extend courtesy to others: assume the most charitable light possible. Grace on both sides makes for better communication.

For some tips on effective email communication, you can refer to this blog post:


Some things go without saying, but some are better said; sending an email or responding to a message IN ALL UPPERCASE is the equivalent of shouting in someone’s ear. You are expected to use capitalization, punctuation, and properly-constructed and grammatically-correct sentences in all of your written communication.

5. Think before you vent

Things to consider before venting electronically:

  • Would I say this to this person’s face?
  • Would I want this student’s family to read this?
  • Am I putting the reader(s) in an awkward position?
  • How would I feel if I got this email message?

If you feel angry or frustrated, give yourself time before submitting a response. If you can, sleep on it overnight. If you aren’t sure how what you have written will come across, ask someone else to read it over and give you feedback.

6. Be security-minded

Don’t write anything online that you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the New York Times. If you hesitate or have a slight feeling that you maybe shouldn’t send something that you’ve typed out, don’t send it. Just like you can’t un-ring a bell, things published on the Internet cannot be erased. Similarly, email is easily forwarded.

Four guidelines for discussion forums

1. Use formal APA or AMA writing at all times

Graduate school writing is more formal than the business writing that you may be used to. For the most part, contractions and informal language are not acceptable in either discussion posts or in submitted written assignments.

Tip: Do a CTRL F search for apostrophes in your document.
It helps highlight where you have used contractions.

2. Be mindful of copyright and plagiarism

Cite all quotes, references, and sources in the proper citation format. The correct format for each class can be found in the syllabus for each class.

Respect copyright and license agreements. Read more copyright tips in this blog post:

3. Believe in the power of proofreading

Spelling counts. After pasting your discussion post text into the LMS, always re-read what you have written before submitting your post. Grammarly and similar grammar-checking plugins are free and helpful in spotting errors that Word and Google Docs routinely miss.

4. End your post with an engaging question to encourage deeper discussion

Questions are good. The point of a discussion board is to discuss. Try to leave open-ended questions that your classmates are able to respond to, in order to deepen the conversation.

Engaging with classmates in a spirit of cooperation and respect helps all involved to feel more comfortable and things tend to flow more smoothly.

For more information about best practices in online communication, more tips can be found on The Core Rules of Netiquette website.

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*This post was initially written on May 4th, 2018. It was refreshed and republished on October 18, 2021.