What is the basic format for a QSO? How should I answer to "CQ", how do I know when it is my turn to answer, when should I give the report, etc.?
Although this question has votes to close, it's an important one. Anxiety about how to respond in QSO stops a lot of people with licences from becoming regular operators.
There are really only three places where QSO format is fixed:
- Contests — you want to be as short and precise as possible. ZS1AN has a good example of the very terse exchange that typically occurs in a busy CW contest.
- Nets — these are run by the net controller, and you have to wait your turn to respond in the right way. Every net is different in the way traffic is handled; listen lots before chiming in.
- Digital Modes — because these are sent from computer, there is a tendency for QSOs to be scripted by macros. This can be rather tedious, but does make it quite easy to infer what the other party is trying to say if there is QSB or QRM. Here's a typical scripted QSO. Some modes, particularly JT65a, have fixed QSO formats down to the number of characters.
With voice QSOs, it's much less regulated. It's polite to give a report as early as convenient, or when the other party requests one. Just remember to identify as often as local laws require, and be clear when you're finished with the QSO. If you're on a calling frequency, the right thing to do is to move off it onto an agreed frequency as quickly as is practical.
The IARU has adopted a document titled "Ethics and Operating Procedures for the Radio Amateur". This is an excellent guide to the basics of on-air behavior and the fine points of polite DX'ing.
You can go to this page to find versions in more than 25 languages and those adopted by the amateur radio organizations of various countries.
Every radio amateur should read this document and review it every few years.