There is the old saying “the squeaky wheel gets the oil,” so this week I bring you this query:



Ahem.  It sounds like you are yelling, dear, because according to internet etiquette (aka netiquette), you *are* yelling.

Granted, if one’s main experience with the internet was that of, for example, the comments section on news items, one might form the impression that there were no conventions of polite online behavior.

Let’s leave trolls out of this week’s discussion though—that’s a whole ‘nother column.

The topic at hand, though, is not necessarily the fact that you’re yelling, it’s why all capital letters is interpreted as such.

So this week we’re going to delve into the world of internet history and look at how the conventions of online behavior developed.

For those interested in the development of netiquette, I would recommend taking a look at our communication, psychology, or sociology databases. We have many listed by subject from our “databases” page on our website.

A search in LibraryOnesearch for “netiquette” and “shouting” brings up numerous materials that discuss how the use of all caps is equivalent to a person screaming in your ear.

If we use the handy date limits and take things back all the way to the dawn of mass internet time (1990s), we find lots and lots of news items, books, and articles that contain some form of general hand-wringing over the impolite behavior showing up in email and the then-popular bulletin boards/usenet groups.

Clear rules emerged early on as to what was acceptable and what would get you shunned.  The Librarian had any number of examples to cite from today, but the following was chosen because of its charmingly quaint description of the internet as “a 24-year-old network linking an estimated 1.5 million machines:”  

Branscum, D. (1993). Swap tips around the world. Macworld, 10, 63. Retrieved from http://search.

In the above article, the author also mentions, in a section on netiquette: “Don’t type in all caps–it’s the online equivalent of shouting.” 

So you see, even back in 1993, it was commonly understood that the use of all capital letters caused one to be seen as either very angry or perhaps in need of a hearing aid.  

If you’d like to browse some of the early internet, and you’re not already familiar with The Wayback Machine, then check out It’s quite fascinating, and for some of us makes for a fun (or depressing) trip down memory lane.  

For a more general study of online codes of conduct, you might check out this ebook from the library as well:

Arendholz, Jenny (2013). (In)Appropriate Online Behavior : A Pragmatic Analysis of Message Board Relations.

Until next week, continue to mind your Ps and Qs, and submit your most difficult queries to or the email below.  


Remember that we are always available to answer your questions via our Ask-a-Librarian service!  

Send me your hardest questions at  or email [email protected]