Developing Good Communication Skills

Having and using good communication skills are the building blocks of any successful career—professional or academic. The key is knowing how to effectively express ideas in a tone that is appropriate with language that is understandable, focused and compelling.

When communicating in an academic setting, the way you communicate can affect the way people perceive you. You should think very carefully about what you say and how you express your opinions. Below are some basic “netiquette” tips to help you communicate more effectively with your instructors and peers online.

Be open-minded.
It is important to be tolerant and open to hearing the opinions of others, especially in an academic setting where people of different cultures, belief systems, and values regularly interact. Even if these opinions differ greatly from your own experience, it is best not jump to harsh judgments or conclusions.

Express your opinion in an appropriate manner.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and the point of discussing topics is to learn and share knowledge. Avoid hostile or curt comments; the use of vulgar or obscene language; personal attacks; and abusive, racist, or sexist statements.

Consider your tone.
Just like the tone of your voice, tone conveys your emotional response to a particular subject. In a medium devoid of non-verbal cues it is easy to take statements out of context. A good way to test your tone is to read your responses out loud. Does it sound aggressive or indecisive? You may consider revising the passage so that it has confidence without being overbearing.

Do not use slang.
While online discussions, e-mails or chat correspondences are not as formal as essay assignments or term papers, your writing should still be professional. Avoid the use of slang terms, abbreviations and “netspeak” if at all possible. The use of emoticons can help convey tone, but should also be kept to a minimum.

Do not use ALL CAPS.
In the online environment, typing in all capital letters is the equivalent to yelling. If you want to emphasize a word or phrase it is better to use italics, *asterisks*, or “quotation marks” instead.

Check your spelling and grammar.
Composing your messages in an outside word processing program like Microsoft Word allows you to check spelling and grammatical errors much easier than in the actual web browser.

Read all comments/posts before responding.
When responding to discussion prompts or blog entries, it is best to read all comments before posting your own. The goal is to add to the discussion, not repeat what has already been said.

Use facts to support your argument.
Present your argument in a fair-minded and rational way supported by factual evidence, not just opinion. Remember to cite your sources when quoting information found online or offline.

Slow down and think before you hit send.
Read your online correspondences more than once and aloud if possible. This will help you find grammatical mistakes, double-check attachments, and verify you are using the appropriate tone. Remember, do not send or post something you could not say in person.

Helpful Resources
  • A Primer for Online Debate — Actually this primer is for online activists, but the information could just as easily be applied to any type of discussion forum. This article has some very useful information about the dos and don’ts of debating online.
  • Netiquette — A website dedicated to the dos and don’ts of online communication.
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