Instant Messaging Etiquette

How to Practice IM Etiquette

from wikiHow – The How to Manual That You Can Edit

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.


  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 them the chance to explain that a project is underway, or to ask for 5 minutes to find a stopping point. This is the equivalent of knocking before you enter someone’s office.
  4. Have a purpose. If you’re not close friends with the person, don’t just send a greeting (“Hey there”) and expect them to launch a conversation. You should have a relevant question, or issue to discuss.
  5. Introduce yourself. Many people invite IMs from strangers, 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.
  6. datm (Don’t abbreviate too much). Unless you know the recipient is on par with your IM savviness, 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Type one thing at a time. This relates to the previous point: be sequential, and one thought at a time.
  9. 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. Use the proper lower and upper case letters. Do not type in all lower case letters. Also, do not excessively pluralize words.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. Use 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.
    • Depending on your IM program, this might be Shift+Enter. Experiment to find out.
  14. Respect brb and gtg. These mean, respectively, ”be right back” (brb) and “got to go” (gtg/g2g). These are two abbreviations that IM’ers should learn and respect. If someone types it, that means something is pulling them away from the message window. Halt your typing (or finish the thought, then type an “OK”), and wait for them to return. If you are the one typing brb be sure it is temporary; don’t leave the other person waiting if you are not coming back any time soon. If you know you will be gone for a long time use gtg instead. If you are not coming back respect the other person’s time and don’t leave them hanging by overusing brb.
  15. 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.” Likewise, if you’ve answered someone’s question or you feel the conversation has come to a close, you can ask “Is there anything else you want to go over?” (or similar) and if there isn’t, finish off with “It was nice talking to you, thanks for writing. I’ll catch you some other time!”
  16. Ask if you can call. If your conversation gets intense and typing becomes difficult, a phone call might help. Ask the recipient if they would prefer speaking over the phone and if calling is all right. It never hurts to ask.


  • If you IM someone and they don’t respond, even though their status says they’re active, it could be that they stepped away from the computer and forgot to sign off or update their status. Don’t send a barrage of messages like “Hello? You there? Hellooooooo?” It’s better to stick with something like “I’m guessing you’re not at your computer, so I’ll send you an e-mail.”


  • 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.
  • Sarcasm is difficult to convey through IM. Sometimes emoticons can help, but if they’re too fancy, they can be difficult to understand.
  • IM is not a good medium for bad news, major announcements, any kind of criticism, or reprimanding. It’s also poor form to break up with someone through IM.
  • Don’t write anything that you wouldn’t want others to see. IM conversations can be recorded.

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Sources and Citations

Article provided by wikiHow, a collaborative writing project to build the world’s largest, highest quality how-to manual. Please edit this article and find author credits at the original wikiHow article on How to Practice IM Etiquette. All content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons license.

James Hicks
James is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of HicksNewMedia, a Digital Publishing and Technology Consulting team providing effective and relevant solutions to individuals and businesses looking to more effective utilize the social interweb. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.

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