Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 3.21.29 PMPLEASE DON’T YELL (by using all caps). Can there be anyone who doesn’t know about this?

Do you have someone in your group whose phone is always in her hand, texting or reading messages, even in social situations?

What about the relative who repeatedly forwards internet jokes, videos, or stories thinking you find them as funny or compelling as he does?

What is missing from these examples? Online etiquette, of course!

Also referred to as netiquette, net etiquette, or digital etiquette, in its simplest form it is the proper and polite way to behave online. While it certainly draws on being respectful, responsible, and polite from our “non-digital” lives, the digital world has given us both opportunities and challenges that make online etiquette especially critical.

Since email is still used by a large number of boomers (less so with younger people who depend on texting) let’s look at several tips and how digital etiquette plays out in each

1. Subject lines…please use them. Typically, if we respond to an email we simply hit “reply” and the subject line looks like this…”RE: change of plans”. The RE tells everyone that your email is a response to whatever the original subject was, in this case “change of plans.” While that may help if the original subject line was specific enough, by the time the message bounces back and forth several times, everyone involved may have forgotten what the email was all about. So, take a moment and write something like…”Mike’s response to change of plans” to make clear what your email’s subject is.

2. Do you really want to send this message to 99 people? Be careful about the Reply and the Reply All so you don’t end up sending private, sensitive, or even embarrassing information to a larger audience than intended. Just the other day I received a Reply All message that contained a list of passwords that definitely should not have been sent to me or any of the other several hundred people who received them. Of course, a secondary issue is why a list of passwords was sent through email in the first place!

3. Have a number of people to send the same information to? Don’t type in a large number of email addresses in the TO line. Better to send multiple email addresses at once using the BCC function (originally “blind carbon copy” but now, “blind copy circulated”). In many email programs, placing multiple names in the BCC category allows you to send to many people without them seeing the other addresses. Gmail handles this very nicely but check your email system for specifics before you try this out.

4. Ask yourself, “Is this making the world a better place by sending this email.” Yes, really. Some of your friends may love getting that long involved joke that has already been around the internet several hundred times or more. But others simply sigh and hit delete. Ask your friends which group they are in or which group they would like to be in!

5. More than anything else, be concise and to the point. Unless you are writing letters to a friend or family member, email is generally meant to be used for shorter messages. Also, watch your tone; without visual or verbal cues your words can be easily misinterpreted. And make sure you use full sentences and spell and punctuate correctly. Your email should represent you fairly and professionally.

There are lots of resources for students about proper online behavior but fewer resources for adults. Fortunately, many of the guidelines work for any age group. You may find these two articles useful and a good starting place to talk with your grandchildren about issues that influence them and us.

What is your favorite net etiquette guideline that you wished others would follow?