The Unwritten, But Now Written Rules to Messaging

Make Sure You're Following Best Practices for Messaging Conversations

Jodi-Ann Beelby.

Back in 2009, Jodi-Ann Beelby has a bone to pick. The then-21-year-old senior at Brock University, in Ontario, Can., had just launched a Facebook group devoted to teaching the fine art of netiquette to users of instant messaging clients. The group, called ‘The Unwritten, But Now Written Rules of Windows MSN Messaging,” was forum for Beelby to share the rules about messaging that she had gleaned since first joining MSN Messenger as a seventh grader in 1999. Although MSN Messenger was shut down in 2014, the guidelines and best practices that Beelby documented still hold true and can be applied to today's stable of messaging apps and platforms. 

The Unwritten, But Now Written Rules to Instant Messaging (IM)


By Jody-Ann Beelby

Edited for About.com By Brandon De Hoyos

  1. Answering someone on IM should take no longer than 3 minutes, maximum of 5 minutes.
  2. Do not respond with a one-word answer! It kills conversations!
  3. Avoid sarcasm unless you have built rapport with your IM contact already. New buddies online might not realize you are speaking sarcastically.
  4. Avoid using too many IM Acronyms. Too many ‘LOLs’ might spell insanity, not laughing out loud.
  5. If you are going to be away from the computer for more than 10 minutes, say “BRB” to whoever you are talking to, or change your status/availability.
  6. If you unexpectedly sign in and out during an IM conversation, it is your responsibility to restart the chat with either an apology or jump right back into what you were talking about.
  7. Do not write your entire daily agenda in your personal message space. The people who really care where you are, probably have your cell phone number anyway.
  8. If two people of the opposite sex have recently exchanged screen names because of the potential of getting together in the future, the guy should always message the girl first. If you are just friends, whoever was already online when the person signed in is responsible for initiating the conversation.
  1. Fixing all spelling errors and typos is not necessary, only if what you wrote was the completely wrong word or the person is not going to understand without you fixing it.
  2. Do not use lightly colored or unreadable fonts. It’s annoying.
  3. If you don't want to talk to someone who messages you, it is okay to make up an excuse and block them. Just be sure to block any mutual friends you guys may have as well.
  4. If you haven't seen or talked to one of your contacts in a good couple of years, it's okay to delete them.
  5. Be careful what you say in your conversations. The person on the other end could be saving your IM conversation.
  6. If you have to leave an IM conversation, it is nice to say why you are leaving, but it is definitely not necessary.
  7. Always say “Goodbye” or “TTYL,” don't just suddenly sign off your IM client.
  8. Emotions are okay to use but don't overuse them. For example, they cannot replace words, they go together with words. A sad face should be accompanied with why you're sad.
  9. Countdowns are acceptable in status messages, as long as you say what they are for and keep them up-to-date. If your Christmas holidays are in 3 days, ensure your countdown does not say 23 days. No one likes people who can't count backward.
  1. If you are doing homework or reading while on IM, be sure to put your status as busy/away, so people don't yell at you for not answering.
  2. If you have really important news to tell somebody or a long story, use e-mail to write it all out or use the telephone.
  3. Breaking up with someone over IM is not allowed.
  4. If you sign in under a friend’s screenname and one of their contacts begins talking to you, be sure to tell them that it is you and not your friend. If you have a full conversation with them pretending to be your friend, your friend will look like an idiot when they talk to this person again because they'll probably ask the same questions you did a couple days ago.
  5. If there is a parent, sibling or friend in the room that you do not want reading the conversation, then change your status to BRB or write POS (parent over shoulder).
  6. You can have serious talks on IM, but anything really serious should be done face-to-face. IM conversations are easier for people to say things that they don't mean or they get implied the wrong way.
  1. If you are drunk and on IM, you may think you're having fun, but the person you are talking to can't read a word that you type. Avoid IM while drunk.
  2. If your status message indicates you are sad or angry, you do not have any right to tell someone “Don’t worry about it.” It gets very annoying.
  3. Do not sign in to IM more than four times a day. This can be a nuisance, especially to those with an automatic alert set up for every time you sign in and sign out.
  4. Give out your password to your IM screennames with caution. Especially to a significant other. If you break up or stop being friends, that person could write lewd or embarrassing things about you on your own IM account.
  5. Don't add strangers to IM, that is what Facebook is for. (Editor's note: Be careful chatting with strangers on any messaging platform, including Facebook.)
  6. Talking to people while appearing offline is cool.
  7. Confronting people face-to-face about them blocking you is awkward. Just move on and let it go.
  8. Use IM to talk. Facebook will tell you who is online. 
  1. One nudge or buzz on IM is the limit. Multiple nudging is annoying, especially if they told you to stop.
  2. Do not start conversations when you have nothing to say. They end up being dull.

Updated by Christina Michelle Bailey, 6/28/16