Everything You Need to Know About Messaging Etiquette

Follow these rules to show courtesy and respect

Black and white illustration, depicting a restaurant scene with a man clutching his chest and mouth following an etiquette faux pas

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If your conception of how to behave online is limited to guesswork, read the following rules for how to show courtesy and respect in instant messaging (IM) conversations.

This article pertains primarily to personal messaging. You can also learn about etiquette rules for messaging at work.

Taking Charge of Your Availability

If you’re signed up on a messaging platform, it’s helpful to let others on it know when you’re available to communicate.

  • If your status shows that you're online, you should respond to a messaging request within five minutes.
  • If you’re in the middle of a messaging session and need to leave your device for more than five minutes, type “BRB” for “be right back” to let them know that you won't be immediately responding. If it will be more than 10 minutes, sign off with a brief explanation about why you’re leaving, and change your status to “unavailable.”
  • If you leave a conversation, you should be the one to pick it back up again when you return or get back online.
  • In explaining your “away” status, don’t post your entire schedule for the day. Instead, choose a description that describes where you’ll be simply, such as “in meetings” or “personal appointment.”
  • It’s okay to initiate an IM conversation when your status shows you as offline.

Instant Messaging Don'ts

Avoid these IM pitfalls to enhance your communication effectiveness.

  • Don’t respond with one-word answers, as they’re conversation killers. Instead, write something that moves the conversation forward.
  • Don’t use sarcasm unless you know the other person pretty well and they’re likely to know you’re kidding around.
  • Don’t use too many acronyms. Other messaging participants may be less online-savvy than you.
  • Don’t use messaging for important news or a long story. Email or a voice call are better communication choices in those situations.
  • Don’t use IM as a substitute for face-to-face time, especially if you want to talk about something serious.
  • Don’t IM if you’ve been drinking.
  • Don’t set your status to “angry” or “sad” and then refuse to talk about why.
  • Don’t fix all spelling errors or typos, just those that will impede the other person’s understanding of what you want to convey.
  • Don’t use very light-colored or small text, unusual fonts, or anything else that makes your messages more difficult to read.

Instant Messaging Dos

Follow these tips to stay courteous and safe online.

  • Do follow the rules for online breakups if you decide to break up over IM.
  • Do use emoticons judiciously. They should serve as a kind of punctuation to emphasize what you’re already talking about, not as a substitute for words.
  • Do write, “Goodbye” or, “TTYL” rather than just suddenly signing off.
  • Do be careful about what you say in IM conversations. The other person could be saving the messages.

Contact Management

Online relationships are still relationships. Use these pointers to stay safe and show your contacts that you care.

  • If you haven't messaged with one of your contacts for some time and don’t think you will in the future, you can delete their name from your list.
  • If you use a friend’s IM client, be sure to let anyone who contacts you know that it’s you and not your friend they’re talking to.
  • If you IM with people you don’t personally know, use extreme caution. If they want to meet in person, be sure to do it in a public place and bring a friend. If they ask you for money, immediately discontinue communication with them.
  • If someone blocks you, unless it’s someone you’re close to, don’t worry too much about it.