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Network Etiquette for Email and Newsgroups

IT Services strongly recommends that all users of email and newsgroups at Oxford University should adopt the following guidelines. They are derived from those in use at many locations on the Internet.

In the established communication media (such as postal mail and telephone) certain widely-observed conventions have emerged which help promote a sound basis for communication between the relevant parties. Email and newsgroups are relatively new forms of communication and consequently many people are unaware of appropriate conventions to use. These are gradually emerging, and the following are based on advice being provided to network users at many sites around the world.

These conventions (often called `network etiquette', or 'netiquette') recognize that it is very easy to despatch email messages or newsgroup postings very quickly, and often little thought is given as to how the message will be received. For instance, if you had intended something in fun, will the humour be evident? If not, it could become quite offensive.

The following code sets out what is considered acceptable behaviour for network users. The guidelines apply equally to the use of email, newsgroups and any other electronic communications medium.

1. Daily routines and housekeeping

  • Check your email regularly; ignoring an email message is discourteous and confusing to the sender.

  • Always reply, even if a brief acknowledgments is all you can manage - there is still sufficient unreliability about email transmissions to create doubt in the mind of the sender that you ever received the message.

  • Conversely, never assume that simply because you have sent a message, it has been read.

  • Reply promptly - email systems often do not have the conventional 'pending' trays of the desktop, nor secretaries to remind you, so it may be easy to forget an email message.

  • Consider the security of email messages in a similar way to a message on a postcard; i.e. recognize that anyone along the chain of distribution could get to see what you have said, and it might even end up in someone else's hands.

  • If you have sensitive messages to send, use some form of encryption (known only to you and the recipient, such as PGP) or use some other more secure medium.

  • Develop an orderly filing system for those email messages you wish to keep; delete unwanted ones to conserve disk space.

  • Make arrangements for your email to be forwarded to someone to handle when you go away, or install an automatic reply system advising that you will not be able to respond.

  • Encourage others to communicate with you by email. Ensure you give them your correct email address - where appropriate, include it on your business card and letterhead.

2. Writing styles

  • Be very careful how you express yourself, especially if you feel heated about the subject - email lacks the other cues and clues that convey the sense in which what you say is to be taken, and you can easily convey the wrong impression. If you meant something in jest, use a 'smiley' :-) to convey that.

  • Remember the message will be read by another person who may not appreciate your 'personality' or opinions.

  • Do not reproduce a message in full when responding to it, especially if you are posting to a newsgroup. This is hard on the readers, and wasteful of resources. Instead, be selective in the parts that you include in your response.

  • Try to keep messages fairly brief. Most people would not choose to read text on a computer screen and it can get very tiring for some users. Try to restrict yourself to one or two screenfuls at most.

3. Message subjects

  • Make sure that the 'subject' field of your message is meaningful. For someone who receives many messages, it can be very confusing and frustrating not to be able to judge the subject matter correctly from its subject field. This is especially important when you are posting messages to newsgroups. When you use the 'reply' option, ensure that the subject field (usually filled in for you under those circumstances) still accurately reflects the content of your message.

  • Try to restrict yourself to one topic per message, sending multiple messages if you have multiple topics. This helps recipients to use the 'subject' field to manage the messages they have received.

  • Do not broadcast email messages unnecessarily. It is very easy to do but can be very annoying to recipients (and wastes resources). In particular, do not send or forward chain email - it offends some people and is wasteful of network resources.

4. Other people's messages

  • Do not extract and use text from someone else's message without acknowledgment. You would not do this with conventional mail, so do not let the ease of being able to do it with email lead you into bad habits.

  • Do not make changes to someone else's message and pass it on without making it clear where you have made the changes.

5. Be 'Legal, Decent, Honest and Truthful'

  • Do not pretend to be someone else when sending email.

  • Do not send frivolous, abusive or defamatory messages. Apart from being discourteous or offensive, you may be breaking the law.

  • Be tolerant of others' mistakes. Some people are new to this medium, and may not be good typists; they may even accidentally delete your message and ask you to resend it.

  • Remember that the various civil and criminal laws relating to written communication apply equally to email messages, including the laws relating to defamation, copyright, obscenity, fraudulent misrepresentation, and wrongful discrimination.

6. And finally...

  • Your use of the University IT facilities and networks is restricted to academic, social and recreational use only.

  • Remember that sending email from your University account is similar to sending a letter on an Oxford University letterhead, so do not say anything that might discredit or bring embarrassment to the University.

7. Further Information

For further information about the Rules and Guidelines relating to the use of computing in Oxford, please see, the University's Rules for Computer Use.


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Written by IT Services. Latest revision 1 November 2017