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[Guide] Internet Writing Guide

A 10-minute course in online writing style by Timothy Campbell

  1. Taluntain

    The Internet Writing Guide takes about ten minutes to read.

    It provides basic information about writing online, so you can:
    • Be properly understood
    • Get your points across effectively
    • Avoid getting anybody annoyed
    • Avoid looking like a "beginner" on the net
    This guide is written mainly for someone who is new to the net, but there are a few items that may be helpful to experienced users.

    I hope you find this guide helpful and enjoyable.


    One of the first rules you learn when you get online is:


    Mixed-case text is more relaxing to read. See for yourself! HERE IS AN EXAMPLE OF A SENTENCE WRITTEN ENTIRELY IN UPPERCASE!

    It may be easier to type that way, but it instantly tells everybody that you are new to the net. Uppercase is sometimes used, when somebody wants to indicate that they are SHOUTING! But few people will read a message that SCREAMS at them.

    When typing in a message, break it up into paragraphs. People often skip enormous blocks of text. You do want them to read what you write, don't you?

    You should also put a blank line between paragraphs. This makes it easier to read.

    Pay close attention to the way experienced people type their messages. You'll notice that they follow the rules mentioned above.


    Keep it short. There is a lot of information on the net, and when people read what you've written, they want you to get to the point. They're busy, and they simply don't have the time to read a message in which you are "thinking out loud".

    Don't just make it up as you go along. Plan ahead.

    So before you start to type, think first about what you want to say. Get your ideas straight in your head, and figure out how they all fit together. Then write it in as few words as possible.

    Some people actually jot down notes before they type a message online. This helps them figure out what they need to say. Such people usually sound like they know what they're talking about, because their brief statements are never vague.

    It's a good idea to use short paragraphs. This forces you to express yourself with a minimum of words. Also, bear in mind that it is harder to read text on a computer screen than in a book. Small paragraphs give the reader's eyes some relief.


    When you write something, make sure that people will understand you.

    After you type in a message -- and before you send it -- try reading it out loud. Sometimes sentences that seem to be okay when you're typing don't really work when you read them back.

    Avoid using acronyms. While some of these (such as BTW, which means "by the way") are well known, you can't be sure that all of your readers know what they mean. Net acronyms (BTW, ROFL, IIRC, IMNSHO, IANAL etc.) may seem "hip", but if they confuse the reader, you may not get your point across.

    Above all, avoid time-saving contractions, such as "ur" for "your", or "cya" for "see you later". When you use these, you're telling everybody that you can't type well enough to use complete words. Take a typing course if you have to -- it will pay off very well in the years to come!

    Note: contractions may be appropriate in "chat" rooms, where fast typing is important. Still, do they save you that much time?


    This is the longest section in the guide, but it is one of the most important.

    Many email and message-board programs let you grab the entire message that another person has written and embed it in your reply. This is known as quoting. This feature, while useful, can actually make it less likely that people will read what you write.

    Avoid Me-Tooing

    Some people quote a huge message, then place a brief comment at the end, such as "I agree with this!" or "Me, too!" This can be annoying to the person who has to scroll all the way through the message, looking for the part that you wrote. It makes more sense for you to quote only a few important sentences that summarize the message adequately, and place your comment after that.

    Actually, simply saying that you agree with something doesn't add much to the conversation. Why not tell people why you agree? You can state some of the reasons that you feel the way you do. This way, you will look like a thoughtful person who thinks carefully about things and considers all the facts.

    Avoid Step-Laddering

    Sometimes people quote entire messages that contain quotes from earlier messages, which in turn contain quotes from still earlier messages. Messages that contain "quotes in quotes in quotes" are said to be step-laddering.

    Step-laddering is a serious problem, because by the time the reader gets to your text, it is not clear what you are commenting on.

    Once again, you should extract only a few sentences that accurately represent the topic you are writing about. This saves the reader time, and ensures that the context of your reply is obvious.

    Alternate Between Quotes and Your Comments

    Sometimes it is not possible to find a few sentences in the original message that clearly convey what the writer was talking about. After all, the message may have covered several different topics. To make your replies more meaningful, alternate between carefully selected quotes and your comments.

    Here is an example of selective quoting. The lines that start with the > symbol indicate text taken from the original message:

    > So I said to him that Mac is better than Windows.

    There is a comparison report in this month's issue of "Computer World". It shows that each platform has unique advantages.

    > The Mac interface was invented by Apple Computer.

    Did you know that the Mac interface was based on a design from the Xerox PARC center?

    > Still, Mac's are better than PC's any day.

    That really depends on what your application is, don't you think?

    In the example above, each comment is directly targeted at a specific comment made by the other person. Don't force your readers to guess at what part of the original message you are talking about.

    Why Bother?

    There is no question that quoting effectively requires more effort than simply grabbing the entire text of what was written before. However, careful quoting will make your replies more organized, and your thoughts will come across more clearly.

    When you use your valuable time to reply to a message, you want people to read and understand what you write. Don't let bad quoting habits make your messages unclear.


    No matter how clever or intelligent you are, if you spell badly, people will take your words less seriously. That may not be fair, but that's the way it is on the net.

    Most computers have one or more spell check programs. Some of them even have spell-checkers built right in to the email or browser software you are using. You owe it to yourself to learn how these work.

    When you go to a party or reception, you take the time to make sure that you look your best. Well, people on the net don't know how beautiful you are -- they can only see what you type. So take the time to make sure that what you write makes you look good.

    By the way, spell-check programs are not perfect. They tend to miss mistakes like this: "Always right your sentences carefully." So even if you spell-check your text, it's a good idea to read it over before you send it.

    Note: The net is available almost everywhere in the world. Sometimes people may appear ignorant or uneducated because of bad spelling. Bear in mind, though, that they may not be writing in their native language.


    There are many ways to get people on the net annoyed at you, even if you are usually a polite person.

    The worst problem is something called "keyboard bravery". When you are sitting comfortably in front of your computer, safe from the world, it is often tempting to write a message that is so harshly phrased that it is insulting. Everybody has, at times, felt like writing a scathing message.

    The usual explanation for this behavior is, "I'm just telling people what I think!" or "I'm only being honest!" Well, that may be true, but if you are not careful, you can offend somebody, and that can start an argument that benefits nobody.

    If you frequently get into nasty debates, you should visit a search engine and look for the word "Netiquette". Much has been written about the importance of behaving diplomatically while online.

    You should always read what you have written before you send your message. Not only will this help you spot errors in spelling, phrasing and grammar, but you may also notice that you don't sound as friendly as you would like.
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