Online Communication Tips for Doctoral Learners

By Hazel Isaac-Smith, PhD

Front view of millennials sit in a row using phones and tablets

In the virtual world, there is an unspoken etiquette of participation. Those in the know seem to understand the subtleties of online communication such as all bold and caps does not always translate into “emphasis.” It can otherwise translate into yelling at the reader. It cannot be assumed that because you communicate online that you know the rules of online etiquette.

Here are some do’s and don’ts for online communication:

Review Your Online Writing

Whether you are communicating via email or online classroom discussion forum, following the etiquette of online communication is critical for clear communication. How you communicate in writing can convey tone and help others to understand your point. When communicating in writing online, do:

  • Be careful with the use of fonts, including bold, colors and underlining. All can indicate a more aggressive tone as opposed to emphasis.
  • Use all caps wisely. Readers may interpret all caps as shouting.
  • Use punctuation with forethought. For example, “Are you coming to the meeting!” can be taken as rude rather than a quick heads-up as intended.
  • Read everything out loud before you hit send. Tone is easy to overlook in a written message. Rereading a message helps to ensure the message has the right tone.
  • Spell check everything. We are all guilty of this so use the spell check – typos are distracting.
  • Differentiate your writing style based on the recipient of your message. “What’s up?” is fine for your friend, but not for your dissertation chair.
  • Be polite when asking for something. “Would you please…” goes a long way compared to “Send me…”
  • Be succinct without using text-style writing. No one wants to read multiple paragraphs in messages, discussion forums or emails. Be short and to the point. No emoticons!
  • Be forgiving of others’ errors. We have all hit the Send button and regretted it at one time or another.
  • Be careful of your opinions. Share your ideas in professional terms that do not come across as rants. Think of proactive ways to state your concerns and provide possible resolutions if stating problems.
  • Take the time to calm down before replying to a message that was upsetting. “Cooler heads prevail” when one takes the time to let a situation rest. Reply the next day when you have had time to calm down and think clearly.
  • Be well-informed about the discussion. Make sure you read the full discussion before contributing thoughts to ensure you do not repeat something that has already been stated.
  • Cite and reference in scholarly discussions. When participating in an online classroom discussion, make sure you are citing and referencing your input – anyone can have an opinion! In scholarly discussion, citations/references are vital.
  • Keep personal experiences out of scholarly discussion. Unless you are talking about field experience, keep personal anecdotes, including stories and experiences, out of the discussion.
  • Keep personal information out of all posts. Never post an address or phone number in online discussions.

Be Professional in Video Conferences

In the professional world, one of the most engaging conveniences of the modern age is video conferencing. We feel more connected with folks who are not in our immediate vicinity when we hit a button and there is the individual – face-to-face ready for a conversation. In a professional environment, here are some video conferencing protocols that will help you to present a more polished and scholarly image:

Prepare for a Video Conference

  • Recording a video conference is an excellent idea if you will need to refer to the discussion later. If you are recording the conversation, say so once you start the record button: “I will be recording this conference for future reference.”
  • Ensure that all equipment is set at correct settings before you begin the conference.
  • Light muted colors for clothing without busy designs are best on video.
  • Make sure you are not sitting in front of a window. This may shade your face! Instead, set a lamp facing you that sheds light on your face.
  • Check your face to make sure it is centered in the video window. No one wants to converse with the top of someone’s head!
  • Move the video-chat window close to the camera, and look into the camera. Eye contact is important, even when communicating online.
  • If you are attending a video conference by phone, introduce yourself before you share.
  • If there is background noise, mute your microphone.
  • Because audio usually has a delay, wait until the other person is finished speaking.

Video Conference Etiquette

  • Dress appropriately, as you would if you were in a face-to-face meeting with the individual.
  • Be punctual – it is respectful to the others.
  • If you are signed on and waiting for the others, do not conduct personal business i.e. check your phone, walk around, or make coffee.
  • Make sure your background has a professional appearance. A pile of dirty laundry or groceries on the counter in the background is distracting! Having your back to a blank wall serves nicely but is not a must!
  • If hosting the meeting, join the video conference ahead of time to ensure there are no problems.
  • End the call when the meeting has ended to safeguard confidential commentary.
  • Take notes so you can refer to points made during the discussion. If you need to type, let the speaker know you will be taking notes on the conversation, or handwrite your notes. Either way, mute your mic while the speaker is talking.
  • Do not multitask! Schedule a time when you will not be interrupted by family, phone calls, the doorbell, etc. Similarly, do not eat during your meeting!
  • As a courtesy at the end of the call, email a quick synopsis of the main points of discussion.

Body Language

  • Keep hand and head movements to a minimum since they can be distracting to the listener.
  • Look at the camera so you have eye contact with the listener or speaker. Looking away shows disinterest in the conversation.
  • Put your cell phone away – your eyes drifting away from the screen are distracting and easy to see.
  • Be yourself! Try not to sound like an announcer, and enjoy your conversation!
  • As a general rule of thumb, if you wouldn’t do it in a face-to-face conversation, don’t do it in a video conversation.

I hope these tips will help you find success in your online communication. Whether you are a current online learner or a business professional considering an online degree, knowing the rules of online etiquette will help you to become a better communicator.

Grand Canyon University’s College of Doctoral Studies offers online EdD, DBA and PhD programs to help you achieve your academic goals and advance your career. Learn more by visiting our website or contacting us using the green Request More Information button at the top of the page.

More About Dr. Isaac-Smith:

Hazel Isaac-Smith, PhD, is a team lead: senior research specialist for the Office of Dissertations, College of Doctoral Studies at Grand Canyon University. She has 15+ years of teaching and administrative experience in higher education. Dr. Isaac-Smith has a BSc in communicative disorders from Andrews University; BEd from the University of Toronto; MEd in special education from York University in Canada and PhD in emotional/behavioral disorders from Arizona State University.

Dr. Isaac-Smith has a passion for working with adult learners in higher education and brings substantial teaching experience, having taught students ranging from preschoolers to doctoral students. Her research interests lie in the field of linguistics, the pragmatics of language, and psycholinguistics. At Grand Canyon University, Dr. Isaac-Smith’s primary role has been to guide doctoral learners and their dissertation committee members to successful completion of their dissertation journey.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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