With so many messages -- well into the millions daily -- passing through electronic mail systems, some consensus was needed to help keep things civil.
The guidelines that emerged are commonly called "Net Etiquette" or "Netiquette." There are several online guides to proper behavior and more effective communication, but some basic tips should help you get started:
Lurk. When you first join a group or a list, spend time reading the FAQs* and following the conversation to discover the purpose, processes and culture of the group.
Save the instructions. When you join a LISTSERV*, you are emailed details about how to sign off the group. Save these instructions; otherwise, you will irritate the entire list when you post that ubiquitous question "How do I get off this list"?
DON'T SHOUT. Using only upper case letters sends a clear message: the writer's a "newbie" who hasn't learned the rules yet or a showoff who wants to draw attention.
Identify yourself. Not all e-mail readers display the sender's name and address, so it's a common courtesy to include your real name -- not just your ID or screen name -- and e-mail address at the bottom of the message.
When a writer or a poster signs his real name it adds strength to what is said. And are there are ways to do that without catching lots of spam.
Don't over-identify yourself. While it's courteous to include a signature file that tells your name and e-mail address, as well as your professional affiliation and even snail mail address, keep it limited to only a few lines. No one is really impressed by your six e-mail accounts, your impressive credentials and your favorite quote (unless it's a good one and under two lines long). If you are looking for a tagline for your signature, check out the online collection.
Don't flame. A flame is a message attacking an individual or a group's intelligence, knowledge, personality, politics, parentage, and so on. Deal with your anger. Write the blistering reply, using every mean-spirited phrase you wish. Then postpone sending it, or, better still delete it. Always remember that at the other end of the Internet is a real person -- and that you, too, may someday err.
Keep your temper down and your spirit up when flamed. When you do err, and sometimes even when you don't, you will be flamed. Breathe deeply, and either reply through private e-mail or forget the whole thing. Cranks roam some lists starting flame wars, and hate groups use the Internet with alarming frequency to spread their propaganda. Ignore them. Most hatemongers thrive on arguments that let them repeat their messages. If they don't get attention they go away, at least for a while. And try not to take it personally.
Don't waste bandwidth*. Some services charge for e-mail, while others have limited storage for each account. Be considerate. If you're responding, don't repost the whole message. Quote a phrase or a section that explains the point (noting that you have condensed it) but don't send the same message to the same list. Don't send the pointless "I agree!" message; it's usually out of context and doesn't add much. Support the writer via a private note, or add your own meaningful comments. If you have a long post, such as details of your 38,936 baseball card collection, don't assume everyone wants the 120,000-character post. Tell the list or the newsgroup that it's available and you can send it privately to anyone who wants it.
Don't spam. Spamming, sending the same message to hundreds or thousands of LISTSERVs or newsgroups, alienates people and can tie-up computers. Individuals have spammed as a way to advertise, but it's a questionable way to attract customers and it may even lose you some.
Do your own homework. Students aren't the only ones too lazy to do their own work. Notes such as "Help! I have a report due tomorrow. Can anyone tell me about World War II?" is no less irritating than "My boss needs to know the URL for the White House, and I don't have time to look it up on the Web. Anybody know it off-hand?" Reasonable and topical questions are a critical part of the Internet culture, of course, but use sound judgment.
Lighten up once in awhile. Try to make e-mail more positive, more expressive once in a while. Since irony and sarcasm rarely come across in print as intended, you might consider the codes which do show emotion --for grin -- or the TLAs -- three-letter acronyms, such as BTW (by the way) or LOL (laughing out loud). Web sites can provide you with collections of emoticons and acronyms.