Teaching, Promoting, Cheering UX and SEO Since 2002

How To Use Your Words Online

Parents will recognize the statement, “Please use your words”. It’s used when children scream, cry, punch, jump on furniture, bite, pull hair and clothes, throw their toys and essentially use some form of body movement to express how they feel.

Since people can’t throw pots at each other online, we try to use words to communicate our feelings and ideas. However, it’s not enough to write sentences and be grammatically correct. We still can be misunderstood even though we used our words.

Divided We Type

If you use computers, you’ll type words into it. Some of us are better at it than others. What’s interesting is that though the Internet united us globally, it also divided us in the same way we categorize ourselves off-line. Social networking allowed us to narrow things even more.

For example, a women-only web site is intended to attract “just women”. A few soared to the top of the pile, like iVillage , Oprah and BlogHer. Each of these large web sites is a community that tries to meet the needs of the female gender. Women are encouraged to join and meet others like them.

Some women may quickly realize their gender is like an endless rainbow. There are so many ages, interests, likes and dislikes. And, if the homepage doesn’t somehow communicate the special sweet spot you want that day, it won’t hold your attention.

The answer to this is more niche oriented social networking web sites. Women can now find working women, stay at home moms, boomer women, and every female in between in their own web space.

When this happened, the dialog may have changed as well. The divisions whittled down even more. For example, stay-at-home mothers sometimes feel threatened by working mothers. The two sides stopped talking to one another and each has their own place on the Web where they can continue to not talk to one another.

Why have we created cyberspace to be a carbon copy of our physical space? A good friend of mine has a saying, “It is what it is.” We laugh often at it, because it explains so much. But what if we could make ‘Net communication more bendy, fluid, mingly, or centered where we can be together in the same space, rather than continue to go into our separate rooms, slamming the door behind us.

How to Use Your Words Online

Here’s some ideas on how to write comments, forum posts, opinion blog posts, offer feedback in forms, write PM’s and emails and some types of articles. Feel free to add your suggestions in this blog’s comments area.

1. Balance the negative and positive energy in your piece. For every negative point or thought written, express a positive counter point for it.

2. Use “may” instead of “should”. Example: “You may want to consider…” instead of “You should consider”. We have no right to tell anyone what they should do. We can suggest.

3. When approached with a perspective or point of view that you disagree with, it’s best not to push back if you can’t do it without sounding like somebody stole your stuffed bunny toy. Accept it with grace and move on.

4. Agree to disagree. Example: “I accept your difference of opinion.”


6. Allow different views, opinions and perspectives in the same space. Everyone is in a different place in their life experience. If we were all the same, it would be boring wouldn’t it?

7. Write clearly. There are many reasons for this that range from satisfying spelling and grammatical control freaks, to those who have trouble understanding your language, to people who equate proper sentence structure with intelligence.

8. Write from the perspective that you are NOT the only person on the planet with something important to say.

9. Avoid labeling people, countries, places, ages, whatever. This isn’t easy to do. We all have feelings, opinions and attitudes about everything and we have a right to express how we feel. I hold back how I really feel 90% of the time because I don’t want to shut out the possibility of learning something new. We can learn from those we don’t agree with or like. We can politely listen to those we don’t admire.

10. Must you pass judgment? On the ‘Net, especially when you can be anonymous, judging is the way of the land. It’s done with votes, diggs, sphinns, thumbs up and down, barks, yelps, subscriptions, feeds, testimonials…we have lots of ways to say “I hate this” or “I love this”.

We don’t have a way to say, “It is what it is.”

I doubt a total nirvana acceptance of All the Crap We See Online would be totally satisfying to us. I admit to enjoying reading conversational chaos because it’s entertaining. It’s like people watching while sitting on a park bench pretending to read a book.

Can our words bring us together or do we continue to let them divide us?

Is it better to start a little safe place on the Web where we can control everything and visitors are invitation only, or do we learn to use our words in more creative, educational, positive, compassionate, non-judgmental and loving ways?


  1. June 26, 2008    

    Great post Kim.

    I remember when I first discovered forums. I was only a reader at the time, but I’d watch people arguing with each other for no reason. Many times both sides were actually saying the same thing, yet they were arguing about it.

    When I later started posting I made a very conscious decision to be the opposite of those arguing people.

    We all get sucked into a battle from time to time. Some people push our buttons and it’s difficult not to respond, but I’m proud that for the most part I’ve followed much of what you’ve outlined here.

    One thing I’ve noticed about the positive/negative balance. If you can make your first statement a positive one, the rest of your message will be received as positive even if it’s really negative.

    Those first few words can set the tone for how everything else you say is perceived.

  2. June 29, 2008    

    A good read. I totally agree with “may or should” and without a thought, ‘may’ takes a front seat.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  3. July 1, 2008    


    Really nice tips!

    will try to keep it in my mind


  4. July 12, 2008    


    Love this post! It’s often hard to take a few minutes to read and reread your communication when the ‘send’ button is anxiously awaiting your click. However, once you do, it’s done. I am firm believer in the proofread, and often have colleagues take a second pass when sending important emails to clients—especially on sensitive situations or touchy topics.

    Another suggestion is to always address the person with their first name and sign with yours. It’s just a small gesture, but much more personal than a default signature. Please and thank you are old favorites too!

    Thanks for the tips.

  5. July 12, 2008    

    @Jessica – Thank you! Your added suggestions are also excellent. It’s so easy to do the simple things and yet also easy to forget them :)

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