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7 Tips for Communicating Online

Even in an online course, you can still enjoy interaction with your instructor and fellow classmates. But communicating online brings with it unique challenges that students in traditional courses might not have to face. Here are some guidelines to help you successfully communicate online:

  1. Preparation – Each course will have a syllabus and other documents that give you a basic outline to follow, including assignments, due dates, policies and contact information for the instructor. Make sure you read these before you start interacting in the course so that you have a sense of what the instructor is looking for.
  2. Oversharing – Typically your instructor will ask you to share some information about yourself so that your classmates can get to know you better. You should be open — but not too open! Your classmates don’t need to know that your second cousin is in the middle of a bitter divorce or that you hate your boss.
  3. Grammar – Remember that you are in an academic environment. Your online posts and papers must be written in the appropriate format and look professional. Check your spelling and grammar before posting. Avoid emoticons and abbreviations, which are better saved for texting.
  4. Civility – Instructors often post thought-provoking topics to encourage civil debate between students. It’s fine to disagree, but remember to be polite. Your response should focus on the topic, not on the person.
  5. Tone – When having a face-to-face discussion, people use a lot of nonverbal cues like tone and body language, especially to indicate sarcasm and humor. This does not translate well online, so you have to be more conscious of your tone when writing. Also avoid all caps, which is considered shouting.
  6. Timeliness – Some of your courses may require group work, and a smart rule to follow is “the sooner, the better.” If you submit your part of the assignment to the group an hour before the due date, that inconveniences everyone and makes it tougher to get a good grade. Just the same as using a respectful tone, respecting other people’s time and efforts in online courses is also important.
  7. Plagiarism – Cite all your sources. Just because you are posting on a discussion board instead of writing a paper doesn't mean that you don’t have to give credit for using information from another source. Check your syllabus to see what style your instructor prefers you to use for referencing sources.