Netiquette Guidelines

With most of the communication happening on email lists, it is important to keep them a pleasant place, where people are encouraged to engage with each others and share their opinions. Of course we want things to be informal and nice, and don't want a bureaucratic-polite tone.


Keeping the tone and atmosphere on email lists pleasant can be difficult, especially in heated discussions. Here are some simple tips that people can follow to try and help with this:

  • Empathise with the needs of other people and make an effort to understand their point of view.
  • Say what you like and agree with as well as what you disagree with.
  • Do not use derogatory language, belittle the ideas of others, paternalise others, or make controversial claims without substantiation.
  • It is the responsibility of everyone to stand up against attacks, false accusations and mis/disinformation.
  • Keep it simple: long and complicated arguments can be confusing and are easy to be misunderstood.
  • Keep it short: a lot of people skim long emails rather than reading them with the proper attention. Also they are a hurdle for people who have limited online time, and may in effect exclude them from participating in the discussion.
  • Focus on the main arguments, and try to avoid being sidetracked into responding to each individual statement you don’t agree with, or scanning the emails of other people only for points you disagree with. Check if the points you are responding to are relevant to the overall discussion and if your response is a step towards a solution that everyone will agree to. A successful resolution is helped most by finding common ground that is shared by everyone.
  • Always consider whether there might be a misunderstanding. If you are not entirely understand what the other person is trying to say, ask!
  • If you feel very passionate and are angry or upset, sleep over your reply or discuss it with your collective/a friend before sending it.
  • Give others the chance to chip in, by holding off responding for a little while, discussions with only a few people get heated a lot faster.
  • It may help to identify which collective the writer is active in, especially it may be helpful for new people who are not yet familiar with all the nicks.
  • If you refer to outside documents, previous discussion or emails, provide links for reference
  • Try and avoid quoting people out of context (this can be difficult, of course quoting is important, but it is easy to get sidetracked into the wording of a sentence instead of focusing on the issue)
  • Try not to “put people on the spot” or “call people out”. While it is important to raise concerns, people who feel attacked tend to react defensive. Try to raise your concerns without cornering the other people, but rather opening doors.
  • Always keep in mind the the aim is not necessarily to get everyone to agree with you, but to find a solution that everyone is happy with. This may mean others have to compromise, but it also means that you will have to compromise.

I like all of these guidelines, except for the first:

“Respect and appreciate the opinion and arguments of other people”.

This tip breaks down when someone is being antagonistic. I have had experiences where a person has made statements which are untrue, have failed to substantiate those statements when requested, and those statements have been masqueraded as ‘opinions’. In such instances it is unreasonable to expect a member of a collective to “respect and appreciate” such attacks and falsehoods.

A better tip would be simply to “empathise with the needs of other collective members and make an effort to understand their point of view”. I have also added a tip about substantiating statements with evidence.


I don’t agree. I think showing respect towards other people’s opinion is very important and crucial to constructive communication. Also attacks and accusations aren’t the same as opinions and arguments, are they? And the other guidelines make pretty clear that people shouldn’t attack and accuse each other.

I particularly don’t like the ‘empathise’, I don’t think we need to share each other’s feelings in online discussions ;)

To me respect is a very crucial aspect of working together and I would be sad to loose that point.

As for the evidence, I was trying to cover that in the guideline: “If you refer to outside documents, previous discussion or emails, provide links for reference”

I guess in my mind these guidelines are more a “best practice” type thing, rather than rules to deal with a worst case scenario.


You stated that the other guidelines “make clear that people shouldn’t attack or accuse each other”. However all I could find reference to is the following:-

“Derogatory language, belittle the ideas of others, paternalise others”.

The problem here is that it is perfectly possible to launch an attack without doing any of those things, as we have already seen. The problem wasn’t not referring to previous emails or documents, but not referring to any documents at all. I have added the statement “..or make controversial claims without substantiation” to clear up this problem, is this okay?

Respect means to show regard or esteem for something. Who is going to show regard or esteem for someone’s opinion which they abhorrent? I get the impression that you really mean to say people should remain polite and courteous at all times, is this the case?

Attacks and accusations are certainly not the same as opinions and arguments, however historically the only people who seem willing to point this out are the victims of those attacks. Having a set of guidelines is pointless unless everyone, regardless of allegiances, actually stands up for them, so I have added a guideline about responsibility.