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Basic Netiquette



Netiquette, Basic Netiquette

Netiquette blends two words: (inter)net and etiquette. Etiquette is the set of rules or customs that control accepted behaviour in particular social groups or social situations. Etiquette varies from one profession to another and from one culture to another. While it may be accepted for an undergraduate student to call his supervisor by his first name in some societies, the same act will amount to gross misconduct in other societies.

Having defined etiquette, it can be deduced that netiquette is a set of rules defining proper behaviour on the Internet. Put differently, it describes the rules of conduct for respectful and appropriate communication on the Internet. It should be mentioned that these expected codes of Internet behaviour called netiquette are not legal rules but are essential to effective and successful virtual communication.

Sometimes, virtual platforms state their rules, and online participants are expected to adhere to them. Moving on, it must be mentioned that there are formal and informal contexts in Internet communication. While email is considered the formal context of Internet communication, social media platforms constitute the informal contexts of Internet communication. With that being said, the rest of this treatise will discuss the etiquette and intricacies of email correspondence.


In drafting an email, you must bear in mind that your primary objective is to produce a clear message which achieves your intention as the writer or the organisation you represent. This means that the first expectation is to keep your correspondence concise. Short emails catch the attention of readers and aid comprehension and retention.

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Also, it is advisable to refrain from using excessive graphics which will require greater Internet resources to download them unless when they are inevitable. Again, avoid writing entire sentences in capital letters. While it makes for a difficult read, on the one hand, it can, on the other hand, be compared to raising one’s voice in the case of spoken communication. The subject of your email should be short and catchy. It, in other words, should summarise the essence of the correspondence. As such, it should preferably be a phrase rather than a sentence:
Consider the attached article for publication in the Journal of Humanities (sentence; wordy).
Article for Consideration in Journal of Humanities (phrase; catchy)

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What is more, in email correspondence, the sender should be mindful of the difference between the three options of receivers designated as: To, Cc and Bcc. The option of “To” is used for the person or persons that should directly receive the mail. CC which means Carbon Copy is used when other recipients are copied to the mail. When CC is used, all of the recipients see one another and will all receive the threads that the email may generate.


BCC which means Blind Carbon Copy is used when the sender does not want all of the addresses copied to know one another. When email addresses are entered in BCC, each person does not know the other person, and the response from each recipient gets to only the initiator of the mail without being received by other recipients. BCC is useful when the initiator of a mail needs to protect the identity of each recipient, especially against the possibility of abuse among the different persons receiving the mail.



Another aspect of email correspondence that deserves clarification is the difference between the options “Forward”, “Reply” and “Reply All”. When a recipient of email correspondence is reacting to it, the option of “Forward” sends the message to another person or group and will include any attachment included in the original email. The option of “Reply” sends the response to only the person that forwarded the mail.

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That means other persons copied to the mail will not see your response. The last option which is “Reply All” is chosen when you want everyone copied to the mail to see your response. This is often the preferred option when the mail flows within an organisation or a team wherein different persons are to take responsibility for different aspects of a project. The “Reply All” option makes the communication process flow seamlessly among the team members.


Lastly, on the different responses to mail, it must be mentioned that while the recipients in the BCC will not see other persons’ responses, if someone in the BCC should use the “Reply All” option, every other person copied to the mail will eventually find out that the individual has been copied to the mail.

Grammar-wise, you are duty-bound to differentiate between when email can be deployed as a countable or mass noun. When referring to the system of sending messages via the Internet, email is decidedly uncountable, as in:
I sent the letters of apology by email (standard).
I sent the letters of apology by an email (non-standard).

When the emphasis is on the messages sent, not the system, email (otherwise called “mail”) can be regarded as countable or uncountable, as in:
She reads email/mail (uncountable) every day (standard).
She reads emails/mails (countable) every day (standard).


While this treatise has discussed the intricacies of email correspondence, the next article will focus on the general rules of netiquette.

(c) 2023 Ganiu Abisoye Bamgbose
Department of English,
Lagos State University

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