Business Writing Tip#113 —Participating in Online Forums

Do you participate in any online forums? If you’re doing any online study, it’s likely that you do. Or you may participate in an online networking group.

Just as there are ‘rules’ for emailing, there are ‘rules’ for posting on these forums.forums

I’ve just enrolled in yet another MOOC, and they thoughtfully provided a set of rules that I felt it was worth sharing. The authors have very kindly allowed for people to distribute it freely …

Discussion Forum Rules of Netiquette

Before you post, check these ten golden rules:

  1. Remember that internet access is expensive in some parts of the world, and many people pay per minute. To avoid sending unnecessary posts, read others’ messages first.
  2. Think before you write. Is your message relevant and appropriate? Is it going to injure your colleagues’ feelings? Truth and politeness are both valued, but politeness comes first.
  3. Think after you write. Re-read your message. Is it clear, concise, relevant, and polite? Off-topic comments will not be read by your intended audience. (Start a new thread or a new message instead.) Impolite messages don’t belong in a professional forum. Take a moment to change your mind and revise before your message is sent.
  4. Write for a professional audience. Many people will not take you seriously if you write messages without capitalization or punctuation as in a private text to a pal (i dont like that or wat u want?). Use abbreviations only if you are sure everyone will understand them (imho or btw, for example, may not be understood by those who do not text).
  5. Break your writing into paragraphs. “White space” separates your ideas, makes it easier to quote selectively, and encourages colleagues to read your message thoughtfully.
  6. If you have nothing to say, say nothing. Unless your colleagues are very patient, emails that just say “me too”, “me neither”, “I agree” or (worse) “I don’t know anything about this subject, but …” are likely to irritate others.
  7. Give your message a clear subject title. Try to stick to one main idea per message. Start a new message or thread instead of changing the topic to a completely new idea in an existing thread.
  8. Do not quote lengthy messages or entire digests in your reply. It increases the time and cost online for others. Similarly, a two line “signature” should suffice—especially if you have put up your Profile, as everyone should [if you are participating regularly in a forum]. Do make sure you include your name at the end.
  9. Don’t use fancy graphics and colours and don’t assume that links are clickable. But if you mention a site or article, do include appropriate references so that everyone can find it.
  10. Break one of these rules rather than go against your COMMON SENSE—the best guide to (n)etiquette ever discovered.

This guide was prepared by Nigel Caplan for the Electronic Village Online 2003 (revised and edited by Elizabeth Hanson-Smith), and may be freely distributed, providing this acknowledgement is included: Nigel Caplan, University of Pennsylvania English Language Programs, Dr. Elizabeth Hanson-Smith, University of Oregon, American English Institute

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