Digital Etiquette Dos and Don’ts

We spend endless hours each day online, but how often do we stop and think about our digital etiquette?

Since we don’t have body language to help communicate our intent online, many times our message is misunderstood. Or we forget there’s an actual human on the other side of the screen that deserves our respect and consideration.

In the book Kill Reply All: A Modern Guide to Online Etiquette, from Social Media to Work to Love, author Victoria Turk addresses how to polish our digital manners in different parts of our life – work, romance, friendship, and community. 

Turk, the features editor at Wired UK, defines good online etiquette as “putting other people’s comfort first … having empathy and patience, and generally not being a jerk.”

Minding our Digital Manners

According to Turk, proper digital etiquette in today’s world requires brevity, clarity and above all, making it as easy as possible for the recipient to deal with your message.

Phone Calls

  • Don’t pick up the phone and call someone unexpectedly. Always email or text first to make sure it’s a good time to talk.
  • Don’t leave voicemails. If you’re abiding by the digital etiquette guiding principle to “put the other person’s comfort first,” a voicemail puts the burden on the recipient to check the voicemail, take notes and respond or take action. Write an email or send a text instead.


  • Do write emails with the goal of reducing the email burden of the recipient. Concisely clarify the action or response you want from the recipient.
  • Do try to limit the length of your email to 5 or fewer sentences. 
  • Do keep subject lines to a maximum of 6 words that summarize what the rest of the email is about. Most people read emails on mobile devices and anything more than 6 words will be cut off.
  • Do know the difference between adding someone to the “TO” vs “CC” field. Names in the TO field are expected to respond. Names in the CC field are expected to read the message but are not expected to respond.
  • Don’t undermine your message with qualifiers like “sorry” “just” “actually” or “I think”. These words don’t make you sound polite, they make you sound submissive.

Calendar Invites

  • Don’t assume dropping an appointment in someone’s calendar means they want to or will accept the invitation.
  • Do include a few bullet points within a calendar invite explaining the purpose and objectives of the meeting. 

Instant Messaging (i.e Slack)

  • Don’t unload a lot of information or long instructions. Do use it for short, informal messages or a back and forth chat.
  • Don’t quickly send a string of short responses in a row which floods recipients with a slew of distracting notifications.

Most of us aren’t intentionally trying to be digital jerks. 

When we follow the golden rule of online etiquette, considering the other person’s needs and preferences before our own, our digital lives will be a lot more productive and pleasant.


Marta Steele is a Partner at PeopleResults who rarely checks voicemail. Connect with her on Twitter @MartaSteele.