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Netiquette or the savoir vivre of the academic cyberworld  

For the past two years, our reality has been dominated by a health crisis in the form of the SARS-CoV-2 virus epidemic.

Due to the education system restrictions related to COVID-19, which appeared at the beginning of March 2020 in Poland, teaching was almost immediately transferred online. Although academic life had long been linked with virtual reality, it was not until the pandemic that staff and students became completely computer-dependent. The need to constantly navigate this new virtual context forced us to re-examine the concept of netiquette.

Netiquette, a combination of the term ‘etiquette’ and the Internet (network), emerged with the expansion of the digital world at the beginning of the 21st century. Just like traditional etiquette, which sets out rules of conduct in social situations, it aims to help us to develop and maintain polite, comfortable and effective online communication (Scheuermann, Taylor 1997). The author of the first detailed netiquette code of conduct is Arlene H. Rinaldi of Florida Atlantic University (Rinaldi, Initially, netiquette focused on the art of e-mail focusing on spamming, chain letters and behaviour on Internet forums.

Nowadays, its principles can (and must) be extended to more complex contexts, such as professional work, education or the academic cyberworld. Despite the fact that a systematic review aiming to identify studies and the level of understanding of netiquette in education, among other things, demonstrated how little is known about the subject (Soler-Costa, et al. 2021), we would like to discuss here those elements of etiquette that are essential in online academic communication. 

Writing an e-mail to your teacher  

One of the first cyber-tasks a student will face at university is writing an e-mail to a teacher. It seems simple until you sit down in front of your monitor and try to formulate a neat message.    

An e-mail to the teacher should start with ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ or the person’s title, for example, a message to a professor should start with ‘Dear Professor’ followed by his or her surname. Do not start your message with greetings used in the real world, i.e. good morning or hello. The first difficulty arising at the very beginning of a virtual letter is caused by the importance attached to academic titles in the academic world. Before you start writing, it is a good idea to check what the professional title of the addressee is. Professors should be addressed as: Dear Professor followed by a surname. Out of courtesy, the same title is used to address academics with a post-doctoral degree. To doctors,  you should write Dear Doctor. For holders of a master’s degree, it is no longer necessary to use the title, but it is enough to say Dear Sir/Madam. If you are not sure to whom you are writing, the most general form is Dear Sir/ Madam. If the person you are writing to holds an official position at the university, you should address him/her using the appropriate title, e.g.: Dear Rector (to the rector and the rector’s deputies); Dear Dean (to deans and deputy deans); Dear Treasurer (to treasurers and their deputies); Dear Chancellor (to chancellors and their deputies), etc. The title and position of a particular member of staff can be checked, among other things, via the USOS online system. It should also be mentioned that rectors (but not deputy rectors) of universities are entitled to be addressed as ‘Your Magnificence’. This title is used in official situations, e.g. during ceremonies, and documents, e.g. acknowledgements or congratulations).  

We already know how to start a virtual letter. The next important step is to enter the subject of the e-mail and write the message itself. In the body of the message, we should briefly describe what subject it is related to. This step seems obvious, but I know from experience that students notoriously send ghost emails including an attachment only.    

The ending of the email, just like the beginning, should be formal, which can be achieved by using such phrases as Yours sincerely or With best regards. End your message with your name and surname and information about your year and programme (or group number).  

Savoir vivre in remote classes   

A survey of students’ perception of different forms of classes (face-to-face and hybrid classes) showed the superiority of traditional teaching over remote classes (Dafydd, Hyoungjoo, 2021). The ease of communication with other students, interactions with the instructor as well as the knowledge of the rules of behaviour in the room decide about the superiority of live classes.    

At the same time, survey findings show that during the Covid-19 outbreak, students’ preferences for the hybrid mode of lectures increased (Dafydd, Hyoungjoo, 2021).  In the recent semesters students have become accustomed to remote education. Communication platforms (e.g. Pegasus) have improved, and students and faculty have been trained to use MS Teams, Zoom and other applications. Nevertheless, there is still some uncertainty that can be felt in online classes. This uncertainty can be reduced by following the etiquette rules.    

Before connecting with an instructor, it is a good idea to take care of your own comfort (as well as the comfort of other participants) and, if possible, choose a room for the class which guarantees a quiet atmosphere, not disturbed by others. It is advisable to switch off/mute other devices, such as your phone or applications - Messenger, Skype, etc., which generate distracting sounds. 

When joining a meeting, remember to be punctual. Being late for class causes unnecessary confusion and interrupts the class introduction or presentation already in progress. In addition, if you join on time, you may check the quality of the call. Also remember that the instructor checks an attendance list. If he or she does it at the beginning of the class, latecomers will not be on it. 

During remote classes, non-speakers should have their microphones switched off to reduce noise. This rule applies especially during presentations or lectures. 

At this point it is also worth noting the basic rules of behaviour at university. The principle of mutual respect, which also involves forms of expression and linguistic correctness, must be applied in all class discussions. It is forbidden to insult the participants and their views or criticise them for their appearance, religion, origin or sexual orientation.   

This article does not exhaust the topic of netiquette at university. As remote classes are on the rise, there is a growing need for guidelines to help us navigate the academic cyberworld. However, sometimes we should leave this cyber world to live in the real world. Real social interactions contribute to our mental and physical health.    

Reference literature:  

Dafydd, M.; Hyoungjoo L. How do students perceive face-to-face/blended learning as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic? The International Journal of Management Education 2021, 19,3.  

Soler-Costa, R.; Lafarga-Ostáriz, P.; Mauri-Medrano, M.; Moreno-Guerrero, A.-J. Netiquette: Ethic, Education, and Behavior on Internet—A Systematic Literature Review. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2021, 18, 1212.  

Scheuermann, L.; Taylor, G. Netiquette. Int. Res. 1997, 7, 269–273  

Rinaldi A., The Net: User Guidelines and Netiquette – Index By Arlene H. Rinaldi [online]. [15 January 2022]. Available on:  

About the authors

Aleksandra Piłat-Kobla, PhD, works at Department of Medical Sociology, Chair of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine at Jagiellonian University, where she teaches medical sociology, including social communication, sociology and social problems. She holds a doctoral degree in Health Sciences and is a graduate of Sociology, Journalism and Social Communication.