Communicating clearly on the Internet without creating misunderstandings is a challenge. One problem is that you haven’t any facial expressions, body language, or environment to help you express yourself; another is that there is little “give and take” for developing what you mean to say or are discussing.

The following guidelines hopefully will help:

• Be clear. Make sure the subject line (email) or title (webpage) reflects your content.

• Use appropriate language. If you have a question on whether or not you are too emotional, don’t send the message, save it and review it “later.” Remember, no one can guess your mood, see your facial expressions, etc. All they have are your words, and your words can express the opposite of what you feel.

• Don’t use all capital letters. It’s equal to shouting or screaming.

• Be brief. If your message is short, people will be more likely to read it.

• Make a good impression. Your words and content represent you, so review/edit your words and images before sending.

• Be selective on what information you put in an email or on a website. Information on the Internet is very public, and can be seen by anyone in the world including criminals, future employers and governments.

• Forward email messages you receive only with permission of the sender.

• Remember you are not anonymous. What you write in an email and website can be traced back to you.

• Consider others if you are upset by what you read or see on the Internet. If you think it violates the law, forward it to the FBI or your state’s attorney general.

• Obey copyright laws. Don’t use others’ images, content, etc. without permission.

• Don’t forward email, or use website content without permission. Visit the Library of Congress’ Guide on “Copyright Basics.”

• Cite others’ work you use. Refer to the Guide on “Citation.”

• Use distribution lists appropriately and with permission.

• Do not send SPAM. SPAM is posting or emailing unsolicited email, often advertising messages, to a wide audience (another way of thinking of it is electronic junk mail).

• Don’t forward chain letters. If you receive one, notify your web master.

• Don’t respond to “flames” or personal attacks. Contact your web master for action and referral.

• Bob McDonnell is executive director of Arizona College Planners, L.L.C., a member of the College Planning Network, the National Association of College Funding Advisors and the National Association of College Acceptance Counselors. For questions, email

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