Skip to content
Skip to navigation menu


Communicating Online: Instant Messaging (IM)

Use Instant Messaging for a simple quick request, to check whether someone is free for a phone call, or to share a web address…

It doesn't replace email, but equally, it's a very useful way to communicate quickly without clogging up email inboxes!

Good Practice in Instant Messaging

Sending an IM

Check whether the person is free to chat - use the Status features of your client: 'Available', 'Busy', 'In a Meeting', 'On the Phone', etc.

If you leave a message, and someone becomes 'busy' without responding, and you get your question answered, reply 'never mind'

If you have more than a simple request ('is the document you sent final'), 'knock' by saying 'got a minute?' or something similar.

IM doesn't replace email. If you need to include more than a line of text, use email.

Email doesn't replace IM. If it's a quick question ('ready for lunch?'), don't clog up their inbox.

Careful of being too chatty. If a conversation is taking more than a few responses back and forth, pick up the phone.

Avoid typing long messages. No one wants to have to scroll through more than five lines to get to the comment after yours. If you have something long to say, try to break it up into smaller pieces or send it as a private message.

Think before you type. Make sure that what you say is appropriate.

ALL CAPITAL LETTERS will look like you're shouting and is hard on the eyes.

Only send a large attachment if you've checked it’s OK first.

Try not to "pounce" other users ("Pouncing" refers to sending someone an instant message immediately after that person signs on to the service. He or she may wish to perform other tasks while starting the messenger service.)

Dealing with IM

If available, reply promptly (recommend 2-10 minutes, depending on your business).

It’s okay to say 'I'll reply later' or 'Sorry, not now'.

Don't be afraid to end the conversation if you got your answer. 'Instant' messaging should be quick in and quick out.

Be careful when you reply to messages or postings. You may accidentally send a personal response to a great many people. If you find a personal message has gone to a conference, list or group, send an apology to the conference.

To type multiple lines of a message use the 'Shift' and 'Return' keys to create a new line without sending your message, to reduce the amount the IM client flashes after each message has been sent.

The instantaneous nature of instant messages means sending these messages to and fro is very similar to talking to somebody in person or on the phone, but in a very important respect it is not. When talking to somebody face to face, you usually do have and can claim the majority of the other person's attention. While exchanging instant messages, you may have their immediate attention only intermittently. When instant-messaging with somebody,

  • you do not always have the other person's full attention
  • cannot readily claim it and
  • should not expect it.

Thank you to Mark Willis for this good practice guide.