UKZN Digital Learning Portal

Skills for Online Communication

Good communication skills are essential in your online courses. There are many different ways that you will communicate with your lecturer and fellow students. Some of these include:

  • Discussion boards – lecturers may post prompts or may allow students to post a topic on a discussion board to engage the class in online conversation. Participation can make you feel less isolated and help you learn more than what is covered in the syllabus.
  • Chats – your lecturer may use a real-time text-based chat feature on Moodle to allow for the exchange of messages with others who are online at the same time, or even to facilitate a study session, or question and answer session on a specific topic.
  • Video conferencing – provides a virtual experience that closely replicates a traditional classroom.
  • Email – you may communicate more personally with your lecturer and fellow students via email to engage them in more depth or to seek further clarity or explanation. You may need to collaborate with fellow students for group assignments and other activities.

While an online environment can make you feel like you can express your views more freely, online communication can easily create misunderstandings, since it removes facial expressions, gestures, and tone of voice and replaces them with a computer screen and written words. It is thus crucial to adhere to ‘netiquette’ in all online interactions and communications. ‘Netiquette’ refers to correct or acceptable ways to communicate online, especially in academic and professional settings. Remember that all online communications are permanent – they will be dated and often cannot be deleted, which allows for easier storage and review (by your lecturer) on Moodle and email. It is therefore imperative that you compose your electronic communications carefully before posting.

Here are some tips to ensure good ONLINE ‘netiquette’:​

  • Keep your posts concise – quality is more important than quantity when it comes to online discussion forums.
  • Avoid slang and offensive language and always write out your message in proper English (no texting abbreviations e.g. ‘ABT’ = about, or ‘ACPT’ = accept).
  • Sarcasm and humour do not translate well when used in online discussions – it’s easy to come off as rude so be careful and rather be clear and direct
  • Look for opportunities to collaborate with others in the class.
  • If someone asks a question and you have the answer, offer it. When you help other people you create trust and loyalty, and those people will be more likely to respond when you have questions of your own.
  • Respect diversity – our ethnically rich and diverse, multi-cultural university should be highly celebrated. It’s ok to disagree with someone, but do so respectfully and never make personal attacks.
  • Do not post personal or confidential information in a public forum.
  • Take your time before you respond to a topic of discussion – to carefully consider your reply.
  • Do not write in all CAPITAL LETTERS – this is generally interpreted as SHOUTING (Hollister, 2020).
  • Always edit your writing and revise spelling, grammar and punctuation errors.

Tips for good EMAIL ‘netiquette’:

  • Use your university student email – this marks the message as legitimate (less likely to be directed to a Spam folder which may then not be seen by your lecturer).
  • Lead with a clear subject line – a concise and specific subject line will help your reader know exactly what to expect (Brown, 2020).
  • Use a formal salutation – ‘Dear Mr…’, ‘Dear Ms…’, ‘Dear Dr…’ or ‘Dear Professor…’ If you are unsure of a person’s gender or title you can say ‘Dear Sir/Mam’ (Tufts University, 2020).
  • Introduce yourself – take a minute to briefly state who you are and what your connection to the reader is (remember lecturers deal with huge numbers of students from various classes).
  • Be polite – don’t make demands, don’t accuse, remember to write ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.
  • Be succinct but specific – keep your message short and to the point.
  • Sign off politely – ‘I look forward to hearing from you’, ‘Thank you for your time’, ‘Regards’.


  • Brown, C. (2020). ‘15 Essential email etiquette tips for every college student’. [Online] Available at:
  • Hollister, D. (2020).  ‘Helping students develop proper internet etiquette’. [Online] Available at:
  • Tufts University (2020). ‘Professional email etiquette: A quick guide to college email etiquette’. [Online] Available at:
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