31 Netiquette Rules for Students & Online Discussion Boards

netiquette definition and examples, explained below

The internet is a great learning resource.

Online learning helps students learn digital literacy skills, collaborate from a distance, and gain confidence publishing their ideas.

But things can also get out of hand – fast! The internet seems like the wild west of bullying, intimidation and inappropriate content.

So, we need computer lab rules.

Rules for the internet are often called ‘Netiquette rules’, standing for “Internet Etiquette”.

A scholarly definition of netiquette is:

Netiquette is defined as a set of guidelines and boundaries that define how participants in an online discussion interact with one another; more specifically, netiquette provides norms for professional communication unique to the electronic nature of online discussions.

(Danver, 2016)

These netiquette rules can get your students on the right track for doing the right thing online, while learning at the same time!

Netiquette Rules For Elementary and Middle School Students

These rules are the foundation rules. They’re good for everyone (even adults) – but they’re best introduced from a young age.

1. Do Unto Others

The Rule ‘do unto others’ is also known as the golden rule and should be a fundamental classroom norm in all classrooms. The full rule is: do unto others as you would have done to you. In layman’s terms, it means to treat people the way you want to be treated.

Related Article: 11 Simple Rules For How To Use Apostrophes

2. The ‘Would you Say it to their Face?’ Rule

Another simple but foundational rule: All students should only write things online that they would say to someone face-to-face. If students stick to this rule, you’ll find the internet would become a kinder place in moments!

3. Think Before you Click

The ‘think before you click’ rule asks students to wait 60 second after typing a message before sending it. This gives students pause to think about what they wrote and reflect on whether it was an appropriate thing to say.

4. Punctuate!

For some reason, punctuation disappears when people start typing instead of handwriting (Remember that? Handwriting!).

Punctuation includes capitalization of proper nouns (English, Seattle, George), capitalization at the start of a sentence, and of course periods (fullstops) at the end of sentences.

While it’s not worth nitpicking on punctuation issues like the Oxford comma (yes or no?), keeping at least a minimum standard is worthwhile.

After all, we’re preparing our students for a professional workplace environment where they will be using the internet regularly.

5. Edit!

Edit before you send! Simply re-reading what you have written before pressing that ‘send’ button is enough to catch 90% of errors. However, a student could also consider using software like Grammarly to edit their work before submission, too.

6. Share your Screen

For elementary and middle school students, you can ask them to always be open to showing their screen to their teacher. This makes them accountable for what they’re doing at any time (and minimizes the likelihood of playing games during class time).

You could also cleverly create a computer lab classroom layout that ensures the teacher has all students’ screens in eyesight at the same time.

7. Ask Before Downloading

With younger children, you might want to ensure that they always ask for permission before downloading any files. They may not have the critical reasoning skills to know whether or not a file is safe to download.

Even with older students (and adults!), it’s worth keeping in mind that other people may have bandwidth and download caps. By asking before downloading, you’re ensuring you don’t do something that might cost your host money!

8. Stick to Approved Websites

As a teacher, you might need to list only ‘approved’ websites for each activity. You can, for example, allow students to conduct research on only respected websites like BBC, CBC, CNN, ABC, etc. This may ensure they don’t end up on sites with untrue content or content that is not age appropriate.

9. Be Yourself (Authenticity)

Too often, we hide behind the internet screen to create a new identity for ourselves. Young people are regularly posting glamorous Instagram-style images online to make them look like they’re living a perfect life.

This can often cause young people to feel as if they need to do the same: create a glamorous image of themselves.

So, it’s worth reinforcing the idea of authenticity, or ‘being yourself’. Asking students to be themselves includes asking them to be humble, prepared to present themselves as they are, and to stop playing the glamor game.

Read Also: 47 Classroom Rules for Middle and High School Students

Netiquette Rules for High School, College and Discussion Boards

These rules are for adolescents and adults who are starting to use the internet for more complex reasons. They are here to protect people from potential future issues with employers while also encouraging civil debate on online forums.

10. Use Professional Language

Professional language is the sort of language you would expect in a classroom or workplace. Students should be aware that the way they speak online should be held to the same standard as the way they speak offline. This means: no curse words, no snarkiness, no inappropriate jokes.

11. Be Accepting of Others’ Opinions

Being accepting of others’ opinions doesn’t mean that you have to be open to them (see rule below). Rather, it means allowing a diversity of opinions to exist within the same message board. This ‘acceptance’ step is about students coming to accept that other people are allowed to have other opinions than yours – so long as those opinions are not offensive, of course.

12. Be Open to Changing your Mind

Too often, we use the internet to blast out our own beliefs without listening to others’ beliefs. The internet is a two-way forum. We need to use to to both express our opinions and listen to others’ opinions.

13. Use Salutations

A salutation is a polite greeting or goodbye, such as: “Hi, Chris…” or “Thanks! Regards, Sam.”

Too often, students go online (or worse, on email) and write as if they’re sending a text message to their best friend. If you want to keep your online discussion forums professional, insist on salutations. This will prepare students for the world of work and ensure standards are maintained on how to communicate respectfully – both on and offline.

14. Cite your Sources

By high school and college, students are expected to show where they got their information from. This not only ensures students are accountable for the information they share. It has two more positive effects.

Firstly, students are forced to think just a little bit harder about what is a good online source and what is a bad online source.

Secondly, it lets others look deeper into the research someone did by looking at the original source. This pooling of resources helps everyone out.

15. Embrace Hyperlinks – With Care

This rule builds on the previous one (‘cite your sources’). Students should be encouraged to use hyperlinks to make the most out of the power of the internet. Hyperlinks give everyone a rich array of resources to utilize at the click of a button. But, at the same time, students need to ensure their hyperlinks are to respectable sources such as known journalistic websites.

16. Get Permission to Share Images

Sharing images of other people is serious business.

We need to make sure our friends are okay with us sharing pictures of them. It’s not particularly kind to share an image of someone that doesn’t depict them in a good light.

Similarly, we need to make sure students get permission to use images from other websites. Teach students how to use creative commons images searches so they share images that they are legally allowed to distribute.

17. Meet People Half Way

Sometimes, we fall into our own camps and refuse to budge on our thoughts.

A thoughtful and wise person who is a ‘coalition builder’ is a person who can acknowledge others’ ideas. Teach your students to work on finding common ground. Tell them to find a way to agree with or compliment someone, even if they’re on the other side of an issue to yourself.

18. Read Follow-Ups

Too often, we post our own thoughts and then never re-engage with the discussion. Students should be taught – especially on discussion forums – to follow-up in a few days’ time to read other people’s responses to them. It’s not only respectful. It’s also a teaching strategy. By reading others’ thoughts, students might learn something they hadn’t thought about before and therefore refine their own thinking about a topic.

19. Avoid Sarcasm

Sarcasm can be great … at times.

But online, sarcasm is often lost. Sarcasm relies on intonation and tone of voice. It relies on pauses and humorous undertones. These undertones are lost on typed text.

So, it’s best to avoid sarcasm online to ensure others understand your message as clearly as possible.

20. Be Brief

No one likes reading big chunks of text. Long, endless paragraphs just end up seeming like someone’s epic rant.

Best practice online is to stick to paragraphs that are about 3 sentences or less. This is far less than, say, an essay, where paragraphs should be longer.

So, if you want to get your message across, stick to brief statements … then move on. In that spirit, let’s move on to the next point!

21. Respect Privacy

Respecting privacy means not giving away another student’s details online. Things students should remember not to share include:

  • Login details (yours or anyone else’s)
  • Other people’s whereabouts
  • Other people’s views and opinions that aren’t otherwise well known
  • Images of others without their permission.

22. No Self-Promotion

This optional rule is one that’s regularly used on online discussion boards such as Quora. This rule states that you should not use the discussion board to divert people to your own website or product. Different discussion boards will have different rules here … but it’s one to keep in mind if you’re running a public discussion board.

What Not to Do Online

I like to keep my rules positive: “Do this” rather than “Don’t do this”. It goes back to the old adage: if you look at the pothole, you’ll drive into the pothole. Look at where you want to go. Focus on Do’s not Don’ts.

I break my rule for these ones because they’re hard-and-fast lines in the sand.

23. No to Discrimination

Discrimination on the basis of race, gender, age, wealth, social class, ability, sexuality or any other identifying factor is off-limits. Break the rule and you’re off the net.

24. No to Repeat Attacks

One attack on another person is one too many. Repeat attacks move an incident from forgivable offences to the far more serious crime of cyberbullying.

Read Also: 163 Anti-Bullying Slogans and Quotes that Pop!

25. No to Ganging Up

The reason I have this as a rule in my classrooms is that I teach the R.I.P definition of bullying: Repeated (aka Repeated Attacks – see above point), Imbalance of Power (aka Ganing Up), and Purposeful (aka Discrimination – see above).

So, ganging up is a sign of power imbalance. Are you and a friend teasing one other student? Are you participating in a group chat that is colluding against another student? If so, you’re ganging up.

Read Also: 23 Great School Anti-Bullying Policies

26. No to Gossiping

This is the flipside of ‘Would you say it to their face?’ But, it comes into play when things get serious. You might have to play the ‘no gossiping’ card if someone is sharing information that is harmful or untrue about another student. In fact, it doesn’t have to be ‘untrue’ for it to be gossip. Are you saying things about someone that they wouldn’t like said about them? Well, you’re gossiping.

27. No to Intimidation

Intimidation includes:

  • Threatening to share information about someone online.
  • Threatening to exclude someone from a forum or discussion for no reason.
  • Digging up online information about someone with the goal of harming them.
  • Stalking a person online.

Remind students that intimidating behavior must be reported to teachers or discussion board moderators so an authority can deal with it.

28. No to Politics and Religion

This is, of course, optional. Nonetheless, keep it in mind. Does your discussion focus on something specific that’s not religion or politics? If so, you might want to set this ‘dinner table conversation’ rule to keep conversation civil.

Other Self-Protection Rules to Consider

29. Separate Personal and Professional Profiles

This is an extension exercise for older students, but is important for ages 16 and up. When people are old enough to get jobs and will be soon going on to college, they need to learn that their profiles will be visible for others all over the internet.

It’s a good idea to raise privacy settings on personal profiles (such as your facebook profile) so that others cannot get in and see your ‘personal life’ separate from your ‘public life’.

On the other hand, ensure public professional profiles (like LinkedIn) appear professional and respectable.

30. Change Passwords Regularly

To protect yourself online, ensure you set a reminder to change your passwords on a regular basis. Unfortunately passwords are hacked into and stolen very regularly. Therefore, keep your passwords fresh and do not recycle old passwords.

31. Protect your Future

Remind students that everything they say online is there forever. Even if you delete a post or comment, people can use ‘wayback machines’ to find out what you said.

So, protect your future self: don’t write anything you may regret in 20 or 30 years … you know, when you’re running for president!

netiquette rules

Final Thoughts

The internet is an important tool for the 21st Century. Students need to develop 21st Century skills such as digital literacy in order to get the ‘knowledge economy’ jobs of the future.

But, we also need to make sure we use guided practice to ensure our students learn to use the internet appropriately and make it a better place for everyone.

That’s where netiquette rules come in!


Danver, S. L. (Ed.). (2016). The SAGE Encyclopedia of Online Education. SAGE Publications.

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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

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