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16 Easy Tips for Better IM Etiquette

Have you ever been merrily working along, only to be IM’d with a two-paragraph question, totally unrelated to your current project? Perhaps someone IM’d you a cryptic message and then signed off, so you cannot ask for clarification.

These are perfect instances for some IMiquette lessons. Here’s Andrew’s 16 rules for IM etiquette.

1. Read status messages. Nothing is more annoying than to have your status as “Do Not Disturb,” only to be IM’d about a low priority project. Respect a person’s status!

2. Use status messages. If everyone would respect status messages, more people would use them when appropriate. If you’re really busy, set your status appropriately.

3. Ask if the recipient has time. This gives her the chance to explain that a project is underway, or to ask for 5 minutes to find a stopping point.

4. Introduce yourself. Many people invite IM’s from stangers, and it’s perfectly acceptable to send them one. However, be sure to explain (in your first message) who you are; a one-two sentence intro should suffice.

5. datm (Don’t abbreviate too much.) Unless you know the recipient is on par with your IM saviness, keep abbreviations to a minimum. In fact, for regular IM sessions, it’s probably a good idea to avoid abbreviations that you wouldn’t use in regular emails or correspondence.

6. Give time to respond. Not everyone types at 200 WPM like you. Conversations get confusing when you type three separate thoughts before the other party can type a response to your first one.

7. Type one thing at a time. This relates to the previous point: be sequential, and one thought at a time.

8. Use correct grammar. You’re not writing a dissertation, but incorrect grammar frustrates many people, and it confuses communication. Do your best to IM with decent grammar.

9. Type in sentences. Once again, try to be clear by using complete sentences. It’s not a hard-and-fast rule, but a good general guideline to follow.

10. Send long text via email. If you want the recipient to read several paragraphs of text, send an email. It’s incredibly hard to read a ton in IM, when the screen keeps scrolling because you’re not respecting the “one thing at a time” rule.

11. Divide thoughts by message. a.k.a.: Don’t be too quick with the “Send” button. Make your messages be coherent thoughts, hopefully only one per message. This makes it easier to follow and respond in kind.

12. Ctrl+Enter = a blank line. If you have several quick things that you want in one message together, insert a blank line. In most clients, this is done with Ctrl+Enter.

13. Respect brb (“be right back”). This is one abbreviation that IM’ers should learn and respect. If someone types it, that means something is pulling them away from your message window. Halt your typing (or finish the thought, then type an “OK”), and wait for them to return. It’s just temporary.

14. Know when the conversation ends. IM sessions aren’t clearly ended by hanging up. If the recipient answered your question, and you didn’t ask another, she likely considers the session over. If you need something else, ask. Otherwise, don’t be offended if you don’t receive “Thanks for the IM. Good bye.”

15. Ask if you can call. If your conversation gets intense and typing becomes difficult, a phone call might help. Ask the recipient if she would prefer speaking over the phone and if calling is all right. It never hurts to ask.

16. Check your buddy icon. Since you’re trying to have good etiquette online, don’t have a rude buddy icon. It doesn’t have to be totally serious, but make sure it’s not something offensive.

What are your IM pet peeves?

I’m sure you’ve got your own rules to add. Let’s fill the comments up with additions to this list. Then when someone is being rude via IM, you can point them here. Plus, we all need a refresher and can learn from each other.

[tags]im, etiquette[/tags]

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10 Responses to “16 Easy Tips for Better IM Etiquette”

  1. Kian Ann
    March 13th, 2007

    Great list Andrew,

    Actually, its intriguing to know that there is a need for courses like email etiquette and web etiquette… I find it really amusing. Isn’t this supposed to be pretty common sense? I read it somewhere that people tend to be more rude in emails and blog posts than in phone calls, or face to face meetings. Is the perceived anonymity on the web doing good for people?

  2. Andrew Flusche
    March 13th, 2007


    You’d think it would be common sense. You’re definitely on to something regarding anonymity. I think email and blogs feel impersonal in a way, and people forget that there are real people on both ends of these communications.

    Another factor is the immediacy of communication with IM and email. It doesn’t give us time to think about what we’re doing or saying. With phones or in-person communication, there’s usually a natural delay, while waiting to find someone or get through on the phone. This gives us time to re-think our words and be a little nicer.

    Thanks a ton for commenting,