Netiquette Basics

At every layer of the protocols, there is a general rule whose application can lead to enormous benefits in robustness and interoperability:  “Be liberal in what you accept, and conservative in what you send”.

RFC 1122; Requirements for Internet Hosts; R. Braden; October 1989.

The four basic rules of netiquette are summarized below:

Help the Newbies

With few written guides for ordinary people, the Net has grown in large part one person at a time — if somebody helps you learn your way around, it’s almost expected you’ll repay the favor some day by helping somebody else.

– Adam Gaffin, Big Dummy’s Guide To The Internet, 1993.

New users on the Internet are sometimes called “newbies”. Everybody was a newbie once. It is considered to be very good netiquette to share your knowledge and help others who ask questions by email, in news groups, on mailing lists, and in chat rooms, thereby passing on some of the knowledge you have gained. Help the newbies as you wish you were helped.

Research Before Asking

People on the Internet often get far more email than they can deal with. As a common courtesy to do your part to minimize this email, you should always check the Frequently Asked Questions files, search the Internet, and search the newsgroups for the answer to a question before sending email to a human being. If it turns out that the question was easily obtainable in an obvious place, you may annoy the other person and embarrass yourself.

Remember Emotion

Don’t use capitals unnecessarily in email — it designates shouting, and is considered rude, as in the following:


If you want to emphasize a word, use stars or underlines sparingly.

I think the facts *prove* this point.
I think the _facts_ prove this point.

You can use smileys sparingly to signal emotions like smiles, winks, sadness, surprise, etc.

I wish I’d read this before!    😉
I wish I’d read this before.    🙁

Remember that subtle emotions and meanings do not transmit very well over email. Satire and humour is particularly hard to transmit, and sometimes comes across as rude and contemptuous. Particularly avoid sarcasm, which rarely communicates well. Similarly, don’t over-react to email or postings you receive. What looks to you like an insulting or mean message may only be an absent minded and poor choice of phrasing, and not meant the way you perceived it.

Be particularly polite when disagreeing with others. Wherever possible, acknowledge good points made, and then respectfully describe the areas where you disagree to produce the most productive conversation.

People Aren’t Organizations

Many people send email from their work email accounts because that is the only email account they have. Never assume that a person is speaking for the organization that they work for.

To ensure that people can make this distinction, some folks put a sentence in the signature of their email at work that says something like the following:

“All opinions are personal expressions of the author alone”.