Communicate and collaborate online

Aims and objectives

This module will:

  • explore the advantages and disadvantages of different methods of online communication
  • examine tools for communicating and collaborating online.

After completing this module, you will be able to:

  • communicate effectively, respectfully and safely in interactive online environments
  • evaluate and select different tools for communicating and collaborating online.

2. Effective online communication

To confidently engage in online communication, special strategies need to be adopted to communicate effectively and avoid miscommunication, conflict and repercussions.

Online etiquette

The UQ Student Code of Conduct spells out the "standards of behaviour expected of students."

Online etiquette (YouTube, 1m5s) has recommendations for interacting appropriately online:

Online etiquette video transcript (DOC, 23KB).

One person is pushing another while saying "Get out"

Consider this online scenario:

Amy writes  —

My section is all complete

Jack responds  —

Get out!

Tip: If someone uses slang you can check the meaning in an online slang dictionary, such as the Urban Dictionary. Try looking up “get out” to see the different meanings.

Guidelines for all online communication

Be clear and concise

All your online communication should be as short as you can make it, while still clearly conveying your message. If you take a long time to get to the point, you waste others’ time and risk losing their attention. Keep your language simple. Nobody will complain that your message was too easy to understand.

Check and recheck

Before you send an email or post a comment check that you have:

  • typed the words you meant to choose. We have all heard the horror stories of autocorrect changing the word typed to some other word.
  • selected the correct recipient. Your lecturer probably doesn’t want to hear about the party you went to on the weekend.

Emoji, emoticons and acronyms — it’s complicated!

Professional or academic settings

It is best to avoid using emoji, emoticons and acronyms in formal communication. It may make you appear less competent ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ However, if you discover that your boss or lecturer uses emoticons and acronyms then it would be fine for you to do so too.

Communicating with peers in online discussions

Emoji or emoticons can be used to convey meaning. Include them in your communication with fellow students if you think it will make your intention clearer.

Just remember:

  • Don’t overuse emoji, emoticons and acronyms. e.g. or or to go to ... It's fine to use them with friends but could be confusing for others.
  • The software in use has to support the emoji character. If your peers don’t have the same software as you they may get a blank space or something that looks a bit different.
  • Avoid using emoji or emoticons in a passive-aggressive manner.

Check out Emojipedia if someone uses an emoji that you don't know.

Check for acronyms others are using, such as TLDR!

Tips for different types of communication

To determine the most appropriate way to communicate, consider these four elements and adjust your language, tone and manner to suit the situation:

  • Audience — who are you communicating with, what is your relationship with them? e.g. In academic or professional settings you should be more formal than you would be with friends.
  • Purpose — why are you communicating, what do you want to achieve from this communication?
  • Context — what are the circumstances that surround this communication? e.g. What is the background or situation that led you to communicate.
  • Media/format — what is the appropriate communication method to use? The audience, purpose or context may influence what is the most appropriate online tool to use.

Visit the Communication Learning in Practice for Scientists (CLIPS) website to find out more about how the audience, context and purpose affects how you should communicate. The website was developed to help undergraduate science students develop their communication skills but is relevant for students in all fields.


A lack of professionalism in your emails can affect your success at university and in the workplace.

Think about the emails you write. Are you confident that you know how to write a professional email?

Email accounts

Always use your UQ email when emailing university staff to ensure that your email doesn’t get blocked by spam filters and so that the recipient can verify who you are.

Use your personal email for anything you do outside of the university to avoid breaching the Acceptable Use of UQ ICT Resources policy. It is always a good idea to keep your study or work life separate from your personal life.

Steps for academic or professional emails


You should use a more formal style than you would use for friends.

  1. Start with a greeting. Dear is the standard in formal correspondence.
  2. Address the recipient by their appropriate title (e.g. Professor, Dr) unless you have been invited to refer to them by their given name. If you don’t know their title put their full name. e.g. Dear Jordan Smith
  3. Avoid using To Whom it May Concern. It can seem too formal or that you haven't bothered to find out the correct contact person.
  4. Find out the name of the contact person if you can. Otherwise, use the service or department name e.g. Dear UQ Library
  5. Make a meaningful subject line that describes the content. Include the course code if it is a course related enquiry.
  6. Get to the point quickly. Lead with the most important information or a request, then follow up with the explanation or background.
  7. Sign off with a standard closing. Kind regards, Sincerely or Thank you are appropriate to use.
  8. Include a signature - your name, student number and contact details. Don't include any private information. Just information to make it easier for the recipient to identify and contact you.
  9. Check for spelling errors and that you have attached the correct file.
  10. Add the recipient’s email address just before sending so you can't accidently send it before you are ready.
  11. Send it!
Using Reply all, To, Cc, Bcc and Forward

Be careful when selecting which field to use when sending or replying to emails. Use:

  • Reply all — only when all the recipients need to know the information in your message.
  • Reply — if only the sender needs to know the information or your message contains sensitive or personal information.
  • To — for those who need to take action or are directly affected by the message.
  • Cc (Carbon copy) — if you think someone needs to see this information but they don't need to take direct action.
  • Bcc (Blind carbon copy) — to send an email to a list of people who need the same information but also shouldn't have their email addresses shown to everyone on the list. Recipients in the To and CC fields won't see the BCC field.
  • Forward - only if you have permission from the sender, if the email was originally intended only to be seen by you. Remember that others can forward your emails on. Don't write anything that you wouldn't want to go public.

Read about real email disasters:

Online discussions and forums

A forum is a tool for people to post questions or discuss topics, each of which is referred to as a thread. You usually have to make a request to join or be invited. The forum may be monitored by an admin or moderator. There are often rules about the type of content and acceptable behaviour.

Online discussions are a great way to develop your understanding of a topic and learn from others. It is likely that you will take part in discussions in your courses. Discussions usually take place over a period of time so you can take time to reflect and contribute when you feel ready.

Tips for online discussions
  • Using a less formal style of language is usually fine, as you are communicating with your peers.
  • Introduce yourself if it is the first time you post but keep it short.
  • Check previous posts to see if your question has already been asked or to see how the discussion is developing. This will also help to build your confidence as you see the kind of comments others post.
  • Contribute something that builds on previous posts or something new about the topic.
  • Stick to the topic and don’t post irrelevant comments.
  • Include open-ended questions in your posts to encourage others to respond or provide feedback.
  • Reference sources if it is not your original idea.
  • You can disagree with another’s comment but be careful how you phrase it. State “I disagree because …” and provide a reason why.
  • Never say something online that you wouldn't say face-to-face.

Check how to use the Learn.UQ Discussion Board.

Find out how to create threads and messages and view discussion board grades, if you have a graded discussion.

You can also join other online learning communities in your field or area of interest:

  • UQU Clubs and Societies — many clubs and societies hold online events and discussions
  • Reddit is a popular forum where members post about their interests and areas of expertise.
  • UQ Coursespace is a Facebook group where students discuss UQ courses. Some students start their own groups to discuss the courses they are taking.

Social media

The posts you make to social media might attract a wider audience than any of your other online communication. You can develop your reputation on social media as someone knowledgeable in your field or area of interest. It's important to interact appropriately and follow online etiquette guidelines. See how social media can boost your employability.


In online chat, messages are sent and received immediately. You may feel pressure to respond quickly and not take time to think before you post. If you are worried that you won’t understand any terminology, have an online dictionary open in another tab. You can refer to it quickly if you need.

Often chat is used by businesses and services to provide help. Before you start the chat, prepare by gathering all the information you think will help the service provider answer your problem or address your need.

If you wanted to report an IT issue to the Library’s AskUs service, what information do you think would be useful to provide?

See our reporting technical problems page to find out what information we need to work out the cause of your problem.

Duration:   Approximately 30 minutes

Graduate attributes

Knowledge and skills you can gain to contribute to your Graduate attributes:

Effective communication Effective communication

 Critical judgement

 Ethical and social understanding

Check your knowledge

Check what you know about this topic:

Take the quiz

Support at UQ

Access UQ services to assist you with personal or study-related issues.