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Proper Computer Etiquette

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on May 5, 2014

Because everyone must be involved, the online learning environment offers a rich and diverse experience. Unlike on-ground classrooms, one or two people cannot easily dominate an online class. Everyone is expected to respond to every question, and thus participation is much more equitable.

In an online course, you have the opportunity to make connections with other students in various states and time zones, maybe even different countries. Communication in the online environment puts few limits on time and place. The classroom environment is also considered far less intimidating than a face-to-face classroom because almost all communication takes place from your own computer in your own comfortable space.

You can communicate online by using a variety of tools and avenues. Following are the more common ones you will probably be exposed to as you begin and continue your online adventure:

  • E-mail
  • Forums/newsgroups
  • Chat rooms
  • Wikis and blogs

E-mail

Almost everyone uses electronic mail these days. Proper computer etiquette is essential to communicate well online. Use these strategies when you are communicating in your virtual classroom.

E-mail Communication Guidelines

Even if you do not consider yourself a writer, as an online student, you will be. And there are certain conventions and considerations to keep in mind to make your writing clear, readable, and inoffensive.

Wallpaper

Avoid background wallpaper or setting your messages up to look like electronic stationery for online messages and e-mails. Although it may look fancy, it can make messages hard to read and actually slows things down between systems because wallpaper takes up more space in the computer’s memory.

Fonts

Although you have many options, there are certainly more acceptable fonts when sending messages. Avoid using an offbeat or unusual font, even if you think it is expressive of your personality. It may be difficult for others to read. If all reading is done on screen, stick with sans serif fonts (like this). Serif fonts (like this) are easier to read on a hard-copy page.

Make sure your font size is in the middle and readable range, generally 12 point. Large or small fonts may make reading more difficult for others, depending on their screen size and the keenness of their eyesight.

Color

Although it can be fun and interesting to use different font and background colors, resist the temptation. Some color combinations work better than others: A dark font on a light background is always easier to read and more professional.

Avoid high-contrast colors. For instance, stay away from blue text on an orange background. Colors should have medium tone or brightness so they show up but are not overwhelming on the screen.

As people age, the color red becomes harder to distinguish, so avoid using red for large sections of text.

All Caps

Do not use all caps. In an online environment, using capital letters conveys YELLING LOUDLY. In addition, depending on the length of your message, writing in all caps makes your message difficult to read on screen.

Emoticons

Emoticons are emotional graphics used to enhance your message visually. They are best used to be sure you clearly convey your intentions whenever you use humor, anger, or a subtle emotion in a message or posting.

  • Some people use the winking emoticon to denote humor :).
  • Another popular emoticon is the unhappy face to denote something sad in a message: L.
  • Do not overuse emoticons because they can make your messages seem silly or shallow. However, when used sparingly, you can put your point across and express the appropriate tone.

Note: For any of the word-processing functions just discussed, if you do not know how to manipulate fonts, colors, and the rest, ask a classmate or friend, use the tutorials included in the program, or do a search online for information on formatting documents specific to your word-processing program.

Spelling and Punctuation

Spelling and punctuation are just as crucial in an online environment as in a hard-copy business letter. You want to come across as an educated person. Although you may not be graded on your grammar and spelling in online discussion, it will certainly affect people’s perceptions of you. Poor spelling and grammar skills lead others to lower expectations regarding your intelligence and professionalism. Further, your intended message may be misconstrued, at the very least. Use the tools available in your LMS.

Abbreviations

Any of you who send text messages know there are many common abbreviations. (ttfn = ta-ta for now; ttyl = talk to you later, etc.). But for classroom communication, you need to be more formal and avoid slang abbreviations.

Also, clarity is important, and not everyone is familiar with these abbreviations. It is best to write out terms in the more conventional way. In the end, though, your instructor will set the tone for the class, so pay attention and follow his or her lead about the level of formality of language. In using more traditional abbreviations or acronyms, present the full word or phrase at least once before using the abbreviation or acronym.

In your online communication, be courteous, concise, and positive, but try to express your personality in your writing. You do not want to sound dry or like a robot. It may take you a while to find your voice online, but try to reach a level where your online communication is similar in tone to your voice communication in an on-ground classroom.

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