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Netiquette 101

Mark Edwards

This week I received an annoying email. The sender had pasted 50 email addresses including my own into the To: field. There was a 2 MB attached file which contained a joke in Power Point format and the message had been written IN ALL CAPITALS.

I deleted the message without reading it.

As business professionals, we realise that others with whom we have not spoken will form an opinion of us based on our standard of written communication. The rules of professional communication are long established and we are familiar with them to a large extent. Thus, when we write a letter to a client or colleague, we use a standardised letter format, we write in a certain tone to convey our meaning, we check what we have written before mailing it and various other things to ensure our clients' and colleagues' high opinion of us is maintained.

When we send an email to a colleague or client, our aim is to build on or create a relationship with that person. We very seldom intend to send them something rude or insulting. We would never intentionally portray ourselves as clueless, rude or uneducated. Unfortunately, through a lack of knowledge about acceptable online behaviour, some of us are guilty of just that!

Just as there are rules of acceptable behaviour in the real world, there are similar rules in the online world known commonly as netiquette.

If you agree with me that it is important to maintain a professional image online then you *must* be familiar with these rules.

Let us look at the email I received during the week as an example of poor netiquette.

Blunder # 1: Pasting a lot of email addresses in the To: field.

Pasting my email address in the To: field makes it visible to all recipients of the message, many of whom I did not know. This is considered extremely rude and shows a poor regard for the privacy of the email recipients.

When sending an email to a large group of people, use the BCC: field (blind carbon copy). Each recipient placed in this field will receive a copy of the email without seeing the addresses of other recipients.

Blunder # 2: Sending unsolicited jokes to a large contact list.

Having been online for many years, I have heard most of the jokes that do the rounds and delete the ones people send me. Forwarding jokes to large numbers of people brands the sender as a newbie (a somewhat derogatory term meaning a clueless newcomer to the Internet).

If people want to read jokes online they go to a humour site or subscribe to a joke list, they don't wait for them to arrive from friends and colleagues.

Blunder # 3: Typing the message in capitals.

Using all capitals online is the equivalent of shouting!

Capitals are used to indicate extreme anger in emails and newsgroups. Using all capitals in any other instance is like a neon sign saying "I am clueless!"

For a business professional, there is no instance where using all capitals in an email message is justified.

Blunder # 4: Sending uncompressed file attachments.

I have a high speed connection to the Internet and it still annoys me to receive a large, unexpected and unwanted file attachment which will end up in my deleted items folder. For anyone with a dial-up connection, and the majority of users are still on dial-up connections, receiving large file attachments can take a lot of time.

Imagine sending a large file attachment to your clients and many of them sitting for 30 minutes while it downloads. How receptive would they be to your message do you think?

Worse still, large file attachments fill up the receiver's inbox. Once an inbox is full, all other messages bounce back to the sender. How impressed would your friends, colleagues and clients be if your message prevented them from receiving all others?

Always check the size of any attachment. If greater than 100 kb, decide if the receivers require it. If in doubt, ask them first. Look at ways of reducing the file size. Don't include unnecessary graphics or graphics at very high resolution where not required. Learn how to use file compression utilities like WinZip or StuffIt.

There are many more rules of netiquette, which you can read at:


This site is compulsory reading for ALL business professionals who use email.

They largely boil down to learning about the online medium rather than remaining blissfully ignorant, and communicating unto others as you would have them communicate unto you!

Here endeth the lesson. :-)

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