email etiquette

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It is amazing that in this day of civilization and technology that simple
communication via email can be so frustrating, if even effective at all!

The purpose of this document is to provide a few quick pointers on how you can increase the effectiveness of your email and email replies.

Think about it... if your email is *not* conveying the *INTENDED* message, or it is *not* answering the question(s) asked, why bother?

First, here's a couple thoughts to remember:
The Internet is NOT a secure super-highway, it is more like
“a group of trusted dirt roads with limited traffic rules and NO traffic cops”!

Sending standard email is about like sending postcards with fully visible messages through the U. S. Postal System. There are ways to encrypt messages and files for secure transmission, but that's a different subject.

(Don't miss the section on Internet Hoaxes below!)

OK, here's some email etiquette:
  1. Make sure your PC's clock and time zone are correct. If your email is "stamped" with the incorrect date and time, your email may end up in your recipient's Inbox chronologically with email that they've already read. If that happens, your email may not even be noticed. An excellent little tool to keep your Windows clock correct is AboutTime. If using most any of the UNIX variants, running ntpdate from crontab does fine.

  2. Do NOT forward broadcast emails to other people without FIRST checking their validity. It's probably just another time-wasting HOAX!

  3. If you must send an email to many recipients that do NOT need to know the other recipients, use BCC to hide those addresses. Keep email addresses private like unlisted phone numbers!

  4. If you are creating a message with a new theme, do NOT "Reply" to a previous email. Instead, "Compose" a "New" message.
    If all you need is the recipient's address, copy and paste it from the older email. Better yet, "Add" the name and email address to your Address Book, then use your Address Book to recall the address for your new message. To save yourself time in the future, learn how to use the "Nickname" feature to recall names and email addresses quickly.

  5. If you ARE replying to a previous email, and the previous email is included in your new reply, delete all of the text and/or attachments that do not need to be sent again. There is no need to fill up your own Sent Messages folder with such redundancy, and your recipient probably doesn't want their Inbox filled up with such useless stuff either. Even if you don't care, be mindful that your recipient may! Some mail services limit the amount of space their account is entitled to, and your bloated email may prevent them from receiving other (possibly more important) messages.

  6. Do *not* send emails in HTML format unless absolutely necessary. Many choose to use a mail reader that does not respond to every kind of virus out there (e.g. "Lookout") and therefore, in the worst case, your email may be viewed with all sorts of confusing Hyper-Text Markup Language (HTML) tags. (Click on your browser's "View" > "Source" to see what HTML code interspersed with actual text looks like.) In the not-so-bad case, your email will be sent with both HTML and plain text, thereby creating an email more than twice as large as it needs to be.
    (Tip: to reduce the ability of SPAMMERs to track your email viewing habits, use a plain text email reader, or "View as Plain text" and/or turn off "View attachments inline".)

  7. ALWAYS include a meaningful Subject. (Subjects such as "Please Help" or "Important" are more indicative of SPAM, and will only decrease the odds that your email will actually be read.)
    If the email pertains to a particular organization or project, try to place the project or organization name at the beginning of the Subject text. This will make it much easier to find by simply sorting on the Subject line and scanning for the project or organization name.
    If you are sending a Reply, try to keep the same Subject, or at least the same first word or two. This will keep your message with related ones when sorted by Subject.

  8. Use appropriate characters. (The first two demonstrate incorrect usage.)

  9. When replying to an email, use "Reply", not "New".
    A true "reply" will continue in what's called a message "thread". Mail reader programs can sort emails in the same "thread" much like the "tree" view of a file system "Folder"/directory.

  10. When replying to an email with more than one question or thought, do NOT just put your response(s) at the top. Instead, include the previous discussion(s) with an "indent" character such as ">" or "|" followed by a space (this will happen automatically when most mail readers are configured correctly), then 'break' the text immediately after the sentence(s) that you want to respond to, create a blank line, then add your new text. Your new text should NOT be indented at all. When finished with your response, create two or three blank lines before the rest of the text continues. If the following text is really a different chain of thought, you might even include a double hyphen in the three new lines:
      > This is text from the original email.
      > Since it is now being responded to, and
      > the "Reply" function was used, the original
      > text will be "indented" with the greater-than
      > symbol.
      A response should be typed following the related
      text.  This way, the next and possibly subsequent
      readers can continue in the "flow" of the communication.
      > This is text from a different "chain of thought".
      Notice that I've separated it with three new lines with
      the middle line containing a double hyphen.
    Many times, the original communication continues on for much more than a single statement and single reply. Often the intended recipient may respond with a question for clarification which means that the original email will probably get sent back and forth a few times. Proper indentation will often become a necessity if confusion is to be eliminated. An example might look like:
      > | > This is the original statement.
      > |
      > | This is a first response by one with a different 'indent' character.
      > This is a later response to the 'first response'.
      This would be the current responder's text.
    Additionally, emails that contain many replies often carry a lot of useless content. Therefore, all of the old text that is no longer necessary (such as duplicated signatures), and thoughts that are now complete and/or do not relate to the current context should be removed.

  11. Most mail editors provide capability to include a "signature" at the bottom of each of your emails and replies. An example could be:
       Please keep my email address private like an unlisted phone number.
       (Read for details.)
    (If you've not read my "protect" page, here's the link.)

10 flagrant grammar mistakes that make you look stupid

hoaxes Also... Beware of the Internet Hoaxes!

These Hoaxes and Internet Chain Letters entice unknowing victims to dump their whole "Personal Address Books" out onto the public Internet highway. This only makes it easier for the SPAMMERS to add your friends' and family's addresses to their "SPAM Lists"!

TrendMicro's commercial site listing Hoaxessearch their database of viruses

I hope you've found this informative, and that it helps you utilize email more effectively.

© Copyright 2003-2024 by Brett Kropf

This document ( was last updated on Jun. 08, 2006.

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