21 Online Communication

Online Communication

Rebecca Hiebert

Learning Objectives

After reading this page you will be able to:

  • use appropriate online etiquette;
  • understand how to text professionally;
  • understand how to structure emails.

Why Is This Important?

Much of our communication now happens online. In order to maintain a professional image, you need to use the appropriate communication channel and the appropriate message structure for the material you want to communicate. It is important to practice these skills during college so that you can communicate effectively when you enter the workforce.

Online Communication

Text messaging, emailing, and posting on social media in a professional context requires that you are familiar with proper etiquette for using the internet. The way that you represent yourself in writing carries significant weight. Writing in an online environment requires tact, skill, and an awareness that what you write may be there for a very long time and may be seen by people you never considered as your intended audience. From text messages to memos to letters, from business proposals to press releases, your written communication represents you. Your goal should be to make your online communication clear, concise, constructive, and professional.

We create personal pages, post messages, and interact via online technologies as a normal part of our life, but how we conduct ourselves can leave a lasting image, literally. The photograph you posted on your Instagram profile or Twitter feed may have been seen by your potential employer, or that insensitive remark in a Facebook post may come back to haunt you later.

Guidelines for Communicating Online

Following several guidelines for online postings, as detailed below, can help you avoid embarrassment later.

  • Know your context
    • Introduce yourself
    • Avoid assumptions about your readers and their communication styles and practices
    • Familiarize yourself with policies about online communication in your college
  • Remember the human behind the words
    • Ask for clarification before making judgments
    • Avoid jokes, sarcasm, and irony as these can often be misinterpreted online
    • Respond to people using their names
    • Remember that culture, age, and gender can play a part in how people communicate
    • Remain authentic and expect the same of others
    • Remember that people may not reply immediately or at all
  • Recognize that text is permanent
    • Be judicious and diplomatic as what you say online may be difficult or even impossible to retract
    • Consider your responsibility to the group and to the professional environment
    • Agree on ground rules for text communication if you are working collaboratively
  • Respect privacy and original ideas
    • Quote the original author if you are responding with a specific point made by someone else
    • Ask the author of an email for permission before forwarding the communication
  • Research before you react
    • Accept and forgive mistakes
    • Seek clarification before reacting
    • Ask your instructor or supervisor for guidance*

* Sometimes, online behaviour can appear so disrespectful and even hostile that it requires attention and follow up. In this case, let your instructor or supervisor know right away so that the right resources can be called upon to help.


Whatever digital device you use, written communication in the form of brief messages, or texting, has become a common way to connect. This is particularly true with platforms such as Slack and Microsoft Teams, which are becoming increasingly popular with organizations as a means for people to quickly communicate with each other.

On these platforms, short exchanges are common as they are a convenient way to stay connected with others when talking on the phone or sending an email would be cumbersome. If you need a quick, brief answer right away, texting is often the best choice.

However, it’s also important to be mindful of the organization’s culture and what is deemed “appropriate” on these texting platforms. For example, when people text their friends and family, they often send GIFs as a way to communicate their reactions. Should you also do this at your college or company? Pay attention to how others are communicating in these spaces and use that as a guide for your own communication style.

Texting is not useful for long or complicated messages. When deciding whether a text or email is better, careful consideration should be given to the audience. Wouldn’t it seem strange if someone sent you a text that was like an email? When texting, always consider your audience, and choose words, terms, or abbreviations that will deliver your message appropriately and effectively.

Guidelines for Professional Texting

If your organization allows or requires you to communicate via text messages, keep the following tips in mind.

  • Know your recipient: “ROFL” (rolling on the floor laughing) may be a short form you use when texting friends; however, when communicating at college it would be wiser to write, “That was funny. Thanks for brightening my day!”
  • Anticipate unintentional misinterpretation: Texting often uses symbols and codes to represent thoughts, ideas, and emotions. Given the complexity of communication, and the limitations of texting, be aware of the possibility that symbols and codes can create misunderstandings when used in brief messages.
  • Use appropriately: Texting is a tool; use it when appropriate but don’t abuse it. Contacting someone too frequently can border on harassment.
  • Don’t text and drive: Texting and driving is dangerous and illegal in many places.
  • Format messages appropriately: Texts usually have a greeting in line with the rest of the message. Combine your greeting and message all in one text bubble.


Test your knowledge about texting etiquette by indicating if the following actions are appropriate or inappropriate.


A person texting on a couch.
A person texting on a couch. Image Source: All Go


Email is familiar to most students and workers. Email can be very useful for messages that have slightly more content than a text message, but it is still best used for fairly brief messages. When writing emails in a college setting, use a professional and formal voice. Emails require a high attention to detail because your email reflects who you are as a student. Although email may have an informal feel, remember that when used in college, it needs to convey professionalism and respect. Never write or send anything that you wouldn’t want read in public or in front of your instructor or program manager.

Guidelines for Professional Emails

When communicating by email, keep the following tips in mind.

  • Be brief: Omit unnecessary words.
  • Use an effective email format: Divide your message into brief paragraphs for ease of reading. A good email should get to the point and conclude in three small paragraphs or less.
  • Reread, revise, and review: Catch and correct spelling and grammar mistakes before you press “send.” It will take more time and effort to undo the problems caused by a hasty, poorly written email than getting it right the first time.
  • Avoid abbreviations: An email is more formal than a text message, so avoid unprofessional short forms such as ROTFLOL (roll on the floor laughing out loud).
  • Reply promptly: Watch out for an emotional response (never reply in anger), but make a habit of replying to all emails within 24 hours, even if only to say that you will provide the requested information in 48 or 72 hours.
  • Use “Reply All” sparingly: Do not send your reply to everyone who received the initial email unless your message absolutely needs to be read by the entire group.
  • Avoid using all caps: Capital letters are used on the internet to communicate emphatic emotion or yelling and are considered rude.
  • Test links: If you include a link, test it to make sure it is working.
  • Email ahead of time if you are going to attach large files: Audio and visual files are often quite large so give advanced warning to prevent exceeding the recipient’s mailbox limit or triggering the spam filter.
  • Give feedback or follow up: If you don’t get a response in 24-48 hours, email or call. Spam filters may have intercepted your message so your recipient may never have received it.

Tips for Writing Effective Emails

As with all writing, professional communications require attention to the specific writing context. The receiver expects to receive an email with certain formatting, including correct use of grammar and spelling conventions. It is important to take note of each of the following details each and every time you write emails to instructors and students.

Subject Line

This helps the recipient understand the essence of the message. The recipient will choose to open the email based on the subject line. The subject line should be specific and give information on what the email is about. For example, “Absent from COMM 1173 on May 3rd” or “Question about Presentation Assignment, COMM 1173”

Opening Greeting

A proper greeting demonstrates respect and avoids mix-ups in case a message is accidentally sent to the wrong recipient. In the Canadian college setting, instructors and students are generally referred to by their first names. For example, use an opening like “Hello Sarah” (for an instructor) or “Hi Barry” (for a student). When sending emails within college, avoid using formal titles such as Mr., Mrs., Ms., or Miss. Never use the title Mrs. as you should not assume a woman is married.

Body of Your Message

State your purpose for writing directly at the beginning of your email to provide context for your message. Reference any included attachments as well, so that readers are aware of the additional content and its purpose. State the name of the file, along with the type of document and program needed to open it. For example, “Please see the attached Word document of my report, The Economic Climate of Russia.” In the case of an included question, cut and paste any relevant text (for example, computer error messages, assignment prompts, or segments of a previous message) into the email so that the reader has a frame of reference from which to answer. When replying to someone else’s email, it may be helpful to either include or restate the sender’s message.

Use paragraphs to separate thoughts (or consider writing separate emails if you have many unrelated points or questions), and state the desired outcome at the end of your message. When requesting a response, let the reader know what type of response you require, such as an email reply, possible meeting times, or a recommendation letter. If you request something that has a due date, be sure to place the due date in a prominent position in your email. End your email with the upcoming action item that will help the recipient understand what tasks they need to complete. For example, you might write “I will follow this email up with a phone call this week” or “Let’s discuss this further at the Wednesday meeting.”


Close with a simple sign-off such as “Thanks,” or “Thank you.” Avoid being overly formal with sign-offs such as “Yours truly” or “With Sincerest Regards.”

After the closing sign-off, include a signature. Identify yourself by creating a signature block that automatically contains your name and email. Do not include your student number in your signature.


Test your knowledge of email etiquette by identifying if the following actions are appropriate or inappropriate.


Sample Email

From: Raj Peters <rpeters@academic.rrc.ca>

To: Sarah Patel <spatel@rrc.ca>

Date: September 21, 2022

Subject: Questions about Assignment #3, ACCT 1001

Hello Sarah,

I have started working on assignment #3 from ACCT 1001 and it is giving me trouble. I don’t understand what question #5 is asking and I’m having trouble figuring out which equation to use. Would it be possible to come to your office to get some help with this assignment? I have time Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays after 3pm. Which day/time is best for you?

I look forward to your reply.



Applied Accounting Student

Red River College Polytechnic


Key Takeaways

You will use many forms of online communication at college including text messaging and emailing. Make sure to pick the appropriate communication channel according the message you want to send and write professionally at all times. Structure your email using the expected format and review it for errors multiple times before sending to ensure your message is understood.

Attribution Statement: Adapted from Technical Writing Essentials by Suzan Last, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, and Effective Professional Communication: A Rhetorical Approach by Rebekah Bennetch; Corey Owen; and Zachary Keesey, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.