Chapter 23: Netiquette ‑ the Do's And Don'ts Of Sharing

Chapter objectives

In this chapter we shall:

  • Set out some guidelines on the etiquette of e-mail and the use of shared networks.
  • Provide tips on how these guidelines might be applied sensibly to your not-for-profit organisation.
  • Encourage you to be “good net citizens” by setting out the appropriate ten commandments.

Netiquette sources

There are a plethora of guides available on Netiquette - the etiquette of e-mail and use of the shared networks (e.g. your organisation’s network, intranet, extranet and/or the Internet).  The following set of tips borrows (legitimately) from two of the most useful public domain sources at the time of writing.  

  • Netiquette Guidelines: Responsible Use of the Network Working Group's RFC1855 (Hambridge, 1995)
  • The Net: User Guidelines and Netiquette Rinaldi.

Netiquette tips and the 10 commandments

Table 23.1 below sets out generic netiquette tips and some useful comments specifically for not-for-profit organisations. These tips apply to the use of Internet network facilities and to private network facilities (e.g. your organisation's network, an intranet or an extranet).  You can therefore use these tips as a basis of your own guidelines or policies on the use of such facilities.

Table 23.1
Netiquette tips Further thoughts for not-for-profit organisations
Electronic mail (e-mail) box
The content and maintenance of a user's electronic mailbox is the user's responsibility:
Check E-mail daily and remain within your limited disk quota;
Delete unwanted messages immediately since they take up disk storage;
Keep messages remaining in your electronic mailbox to a minimum;
Mail messages can be downloaded or extracted to files then to disks for future reference;
Unless you are using a powerful encryption device you should assume that others may be able to read or access your mail.
in a not-for-profit organisation, it is often sensible to retain your mail messages, but this is usually best achieved by saving messages to a secure, private work area
Public disk storage area
The content and maintenance of a user's disk storage area is the users responsibility:
Keep files to a minimum. Files should be downloaded to your personal computer's hard drive or to diskettes;
Routinely and frequently virus-scan your system, especially when receiving or downloading files from other systems to prevent the spread of a virus;
Your files may be accessible by persons with system privileges, so do not maintain anything private in your disk storage area
not-for-profit organisations with local networks should have policies regarding storing files - it is often sensible to require staff to store all their data files on a local network drive rather than their PC's drive
Anonymous File Transfer Protocol (FTP)
Users should respond to the PASSWORD prompt with their Email address, so if that site chooses, it can track the level of FTP usage;
When possible limit downloads, especially large downloads (1 Meg+), for after normal business hours locally and for the remote ftp host; preferably late in the evening;
Adhere to time restrictions as requested by archive sites. Think in terms of the current time at the site that's being visited, not of local time;
Copy downloaded files to your personal computer hard drive or disks to remain within disk quota;
Do not use someone else's FTP site to deposit materials you wish other people to pick up. This is called "dumping" and is not generally acceptable behaviour;
It's the user's responsibility when downloading programs, to check for copyright or licensing agreements. If the program is beneficial to your use, pay any authors' registration fee. If there is any doubt, don't copy it; there have been many occasions on which copyrighted software has found its way into ftp archives. Support for any downloaded programs should be requested from the originator of the application. Remove unwanted programs from your systems;
Be vigilant with regard to software viruses when downloading files using FTP or equivalent, even when the source is well known to you
e-mail security, brevity and identification
do not give your userID or password to another person. System administrators that need to access your account for maintenance or to correct problems will have full privileges to your account;
do not assume your email messages are private nor that they can be read by only yourself or the recipient;
Keep paragraphs and messages short and to the point - over 50 lines is normally considered long;
Try to be brief without being overly terse;
Limit line length to approximately 65-70 characters and avoid control characters;
Do not send chain letters through the Internet. Sending them can cause the loss of your Internet Access;
When quoting another person, edit out whatever isn't directly applicable to your reply. Take the time to edit any quotations down to the minimum necessary to provide context for your reply;
Focus on one subject per message and always include a pertinent subject title for the message, that way the user can locate the message quickly;
Include your signature at the bottom of e-mail messages when communicating with people who may not know you personally or broadcasting to a dynamic group of subscribers;
Your signature footer is in effect your electronic business card - it should include your name, position, affiliation and Internet and should not exceed more than 4 lines. Optional information could include your address and phone number and activation of an e-business card
These principles apply as much to intra not-for-profit organisation and inter not-for-profit organisation e-mail as they do to the wider Internet
not-for-profit organisations should have policy regarding the use of the organisation's e-mail system for private correspondence
not-for-profit organisations should also have policy regarding the authorisation of opinions expressed in e-mails in much the same way as you should have such policy for correspondence sent via other media
e-mail manners and form
Capitalise words only to highlight an important point or to distinguish a title or heading. Capitalising whole words that are not titles is generally termed as SHOUTING!;
*Asterisks* surrounding a word can be used to make a stronger point;
Avoid misinterpretation of dates by including the spelled out month: Example: 24 JUN 1999 or JUN 24 1999;
Follow chain of command procedures for corresponding with superiors. For example, don't send a complaint via e-mail directly to the "top" just because you can;
Be professional and careful what you say about others. e-mail is easily forwarded;
Wait overnight to send emotional responses to messages.
Cite all quotes, references and sources and respect copyright and license agreements;
It is considered extremely rude to forward personal email to mailing lists or Usenet without the original author's permission;
If you think the importance of the e-mail justifies it, immediately reply to an e-mail to let the sender know you got it even if you will send a longer reply later;
Bear in mind that the cost of sending an e-mail message is, on average, shared equally between the sender and the recipient;
Be careful when using sarcasm and humour. Without face to face communications your joke may be viewed as criticism. When being humorous, use emoticons to express humour. (tilt your head to the left to see the emoticon smile)
:-) = happy face for humour;
Acronyms can be used to abbreviate when possible, however messages that are filled with acronyms can be confusing and annoying to the reader.
Examples: IMHO= in my humble/honest opinion
FYI = for your information
BTW = by the way
these principles apply as much to intra not-for-profit organisation and inter not-for-profit organisation e-mail as they do to the wider Internet
not-for-profit people should be especially careful to avoid inadvertently offending potential readers' sensibilities
Mailing Lists and Discussion Groups
Some mailing lists have low rates of traffic, others can flood your mailbox with several hundred mail messages per day. Numerous incoming messages from various listservers or mailing lists by multiple users, requires extensive system processing which can tie up valuable resources. Subscription to Interest Groups or Discussion Lists should be kept to a minimum and should not exceed what your disk quota can handle, or you for that matter;
When you join a list, monitor the messages for a few days to get a feel for what common questions are asked, and what topics are deemed off-limits. This is commonly referred to as lurking. When you feel comfortable with the group, then start posting;
See if there is a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) for a group that you are interested in joining. Veteran members get annoyed when they see the same questions every few weeks, or at the start of each semester;
Follow any and all guidelines that the listowner has posted; the listowner establishes the local "netiquette" standards for her/his list;
Keep your questions and comments relevant to the focus of the discussion group (even if others seem to be breaking this rule);
not-for-profit organisations should have a policy on access to and use of discussion groups - especially with regard to membership of groups which are not directly related to your work
There are Usenet and World Wide Web discussion groups covering many areas of interest to not-for-profit people, both in general and in specialised not-for-profit sector fields
"Other sources of information" in this book list several links to not-for-profit oriented discussion groups and other relevant forums
World Wide Web
Do not assume that information you find is up to date and/or accurate. Remember that new technology has allowed just about anyone to be a publisher, but not everyone has discovered the responsibilities that accompany publishing;
Do not include very large graphic images in your html documents. It is preferable to have postage sized images that the user can click on to "enlarge" a picture. Some users with access to the Web are viewing documents using slow speed modems and downloading these images can take a great deal of time;
It is not a requirement to ask permission to link to another's site, though out of respect for the individual and their efforts, a simple email message stating that you have made a link to their site would be appropriate - you might also politely request that they link their site back to your to return the favour;
When including video or voice files, include next to the description a file size, i.e (10KB or 2MB), so the user has the option of knowing how long it will take to download the file;
Keep naming standards for URL's simple and not overly excessive with changes in case. Some users do not realise that sites are case sensitive or they receive URL's verbally where case sensitivity is not easily recognisable;
When in doubt about a URL, try accessing the domain address first, then navigate through the site to locate the specific URL. Most URL's begin with the node address of WWW followed by the site address, i.e:
A URL which includes only an image map and no text might not be accessible to those users that do not have access to a graphical Web browser. Always include the option of text links in your URL documents
For not-for-profit organisations it is especially important to tailor your Web presence to enable those with low specification equipment to access your information effectively - minimise exclusion by maximising simplicity
World Wide Web (continued)
World Wide Web connections can be *very* high bandwidth consumers. With graphical web browsers, when graphic images are not necessary to obtain information it is a good idea, both in terms of the speed of the session, and to conserve bandwidth, to set the options to "turn off" or "delay" inline images;
URL authors should always protect their additions to the Web by including trademark (TM) or Copyright (C) symbols in their HTML documents;
URL authors should include an email address at the bottom (or in the address area) of all HTML documents. Because of the nature of html links, a user can automatically link to your html document and have questions about it, but will not know who to contact if the email address is not available;
Including the actual URL in the document source preferably after the <Address> tag, will allow users that print out the information to know where to access the information in the future, i.e. URL --;
URL's authors should always include a date of last revision - so users linking to the site can know how up to date the information has been maintained;
Infringement of copyright laws, obscene, harassing or threatening materials on Web sites can be in violation of local, state, national or international laws and can be subject to litigation by the appropriate law enforcement agency. Authors of HTML documents will ultimately be responsible for what they allow users world-wide to access
not-for-profit organisations should have policies with regard to publishing documents on the World Wide Web – these policies generally can mirror your policies with regard to publishing generally – the World Wide Web is simply another medium - albeit a far reaching one
The Ten Commandments for Computer Ethics (from the Computer Ethics Institute)
1. Thou shalt not use a computer to harm other people.
2. Thou shalt not interfere with other people's computer work.
3. Thou shalt not snoop around in other people's files.
4. Thou shalt not use a computer to steal.
5. Thou shalt not use a computer to bear false witness.
6. Thou shalt not use or copy software for which you have not paid.
7. Thou shalt not use other people's computer resources without authorisation.
8. Thou shalt not appropriate other people's intellectual output.
9. Thou shalt think about the social consequences of the program you write.
10. Thou shalt use a computer in ways that show consideration and respect.
not-for-profit organisations should be vigilant to ensure that they are not breaking these "command-ments";
Number 6 seems to be the one that many not-for-profit organisations struggle to keep, even though not-for-profit organisations can often get low price (or in some cases legitimately free) licences for much software


  • Following the netiquette rules and the 10 commandments should improve your ability to benefit from using networks and should help you to help others to benefit.
  • Most of the rules are common sense, but the sort of common sense that it is aided by an occasional read and availability as reference material.
  • You can use the material in this chapter as the basis of your organisation’s policies for network use, embracing your organisational network, intranets extranets and the Internet.