This document is
intended to offer guidance to users of electronic mail (e-mail)
systems, whether it’s a twelve-year old computer nerd’s BBS, one
of the dinosaur services like AOL-ful, Compu-Snore or Prodigee-wiz,
or the vast world of the Internet. Although it’s geared towards
users of the afore-mentioned services, it has sections that apply to
all types of e-mail systems.
This is not a
“how-to” document, but rather a document that offers advice to
make you more computer-worthy (probably more worthy than you desire)
and to prevent you from embarrassing yourself at some point in the
this document and for the tables in the Abbreviation and Smilies
sections must go to Ventanna Press for their publication the Windows
Internet Tour Guide.
Don’t Be A
be concise and to the point. Think of it as a telephone conversation,
except you are typing instead of speaking. Nobody has ever won a
Pulitzer Prize for a telephone conversation nor will they win one for
an e-mail message.
important to remember that some people receive hundreds of e-mail
messages a day (yes, there are such people), so the last thing they
want to see is a message from someone who thinks he/she is the next
caught up in grammar and punctuation, especially excessive
punctuation. You’ll see lots of e-mail messages where people put a
dozen exclamation points at the end of a sentence for added emphasis.
Big deal. Exclamation points (called “bangs” in computer circles)
are just another form of ending a sentence.
If something is
important it should be reflected in your text, not in your
The Legacy Of
Although this is
the 1990’s, not everyone in the world has e-mail software that has
the word wrap feature (word wrap keeps you from having to hit the
Enter key at the end of the line). There are still a large number of
users with dumb (and not so dumb) terminals and teletype devices that
do not gracefully handle text longer than the old punch card length
of 80 characters. Therefore, keep the number of characters per line
below the 80 character limit. Some recent e-mail packages have a
built-in feature that automatically word wraps at a specified
character limit so that the problem is essentially solved. However,
if you’re software does not support this feature, you’ll just
have to remember to use the big Enter key again.
be everything, but not here. Plain text is it. Period. End of
Using HTML, or
heaven forbid the Microsquish Rich Text Format, to format messages so
that they have fancy fonts, colors or whatever is asking for trouble.
There are lots of e-mail clients (and some servers) which can not
handle messages in these formats. The message will come in as utter
gibberish or in the worst case, crash the e-mail client. I’ve seen
usage is quite rampant with e-mail. In the quest to save keystrokes,
users have traded clarity for confusion (unless you understand the
abbreviations). Some of the more common abbreviations are listed in
the table below. I would recommend that you use abbreviations that
are already common to the English language, such as FYI and BTW.
Beyond that, you run the risk of confusing your recipient.
This Means This
BCNU be seeing
BTW by the way
FWIW for what
FYI for your
IMHO in my
OBO or best
ROTFL rolling on
the floor laughing
RTFM read the
no such thing as a free lunch
TTFN ta ta for
TTYL talk to you
Part of the
nature of a good one-on-one conversation is the use of visual cues.
How important are facial expressions and body gestures to a
conversation? A simple eye movement can mean the difference between
“yes” and “YES”. What about auditory cues? The results are
Since there are
no visual or auditory cues with e-mail, users have come up with
something called “smilies”. They are simple strings of characters
that are interspersed in the e-mail text to convey the writer’s
emotions (cues). The most common example is
. Turn your head to the left and you should see a happy face
(the colon are the eyes, the dash is the nose and the parentheses is
the mouth). Here are some more examples.
This Means This
Wink (light sarcasm)
grin (heavy sarcasm)
Shock or surprise
Frown (anger or displeasure)
ask me to interpret, because I don’t understand them all.
typically found at the end of sentences and will usually refer back
to the prior statement.
recommend you use these sparingly. There are hundreds of these things
and their translations are by no means universal (a miss-interpreted
smilie could lead to a flame).
If you posed
this question to Miss Manners, I expect she would come back with a
quick answer – use the standard formalities — but I don’t know
that I would agree.
non-business situation, I would recommend that you bypass the
standard formalities. At most, I would only include something along
the lines of “Dear Virgil” or just “Virgil”.
In the business
situation, things are much more complicated. Each situation will need
to be evaluated on its on, but in general, I would use the following
as a guide: If you normally address a person as Miss/Mrs./Ms./Mr.
Smith then that’s the way I would initially address them in e-mail.
If you normally call them by their first name then I would either
omit the salutation or follow the guideline specified in the prior
paragraph. If you are unsure, stick to the formal salutation. It’s
the safest bet.
If you had to
guess what a signature was (the e-mail version), you would probably
On a paper
document (save a tree, send e-mail) it’s typical to close the
document with the following:
Gene Wicker, Jr.
I Will Follow…
Since it’s not
possible (yet) to sign your e-mail, users will sometimes include the
same information (minus the signature) at the bottom of their e-mail
I would highly
recommend this practice because the originator is not always clear to
the recipient. Lots of companies use abbreviated names or numbers for
employee e-mail addresses and those abbreviations or numbers will
mean little to someone not familiar with their significance.
I would also
recommend that you included your e-mail address in this information.
Sometimes it can be very difficult to locate your e-mail address in
the information that’s a part of transmission, especially if it’s
going across the Internet.
If your e-mail
address is a business address, I would include your title and company
name in the signature. Normally, this might be part of a letterhead,
but in the e-mail world letterheads are not used (wasted space).
sometimes run across a user’s signature that contains a quote (as
in “…the secret to life is that there is no secret.”) after the
person’s name. This has become a fairly common practice. If you
choose this option I would recommend that the quote be something that
is a reflection of yourself. Keep it short. You don’t want the
quote to be longer than the message.
Also you will
run across signatures that contain images built out of keyboard
characters. These are kind of hard to describe unless you’ve seen
one, but you will surely know one when you see it. As with the quote,
the image should be a reflection of the person.
choose to add a quote, an image or both, I would recommend that you
keep the total number of lines for the signature down to four or
Once you send
that first e-mail, you will probably get a response. If you want to
reply to that response what should you do? The wrong thing to do is
to start a new e-mail message. This breaks the link (called a
“thread”) between the original message and your
soon-to-be-created response. Without the link, it can get difficult
for the users on each end to follow the sequence of messages,
especially after several exchanges. This becomes an even larger
problem when you are dealing with newsgroups (more later) where
several people may be replying to messages and trying to follow the
thread of exchanged information. The correct thing to do is to reply,
which is essentially the same thing as creating a new message, but
maintains the thread.
Nothing is more
wasteful than to reply to an e-mail by including a complete copy of
the original with the words “I agree” , “Okay” or “Ditto”
at the bottom.
method is to use quoting. This is best explained by an example:
*and do you
agree with the proposal to hire Ms. Ross to
Yes. Please make
the necessary arrangements.
The ‘*’ in
front of the text indicates to the recipient that this is quoted
material from his/her last e-mail message. The second sentence is
your response to the quoted material. The key with quoting is to
include enough material in the quote so that it will be relevant to
the recipient. Imagine that the original message was a hundred lines
long and the only question that required a response was located in
the last sentence. Why send the whole message back in the reply? That
would cause the recipient to scroll through the hundred line message
again just to find your response at the bottom.
occur again and again as in the example:
**and do you
agree with the proposal to hire Ms. Ross to
make the necessary arrangements.
made. Our first meeting is scheduled for tomorrow morning.
From this we see
both two level quoting (**) and one level quoting (*). The (**)
indicates that the sender is quoting your quote and the (*) is a
quote of part of your message you sent in reply.
Don’t get hung
up in quoting. After so many levels, all you end up with is a bunch
of “*” and very little substance.
Save A Tree
think that the best thing that could happen would be for someone to
take away the printer. Why? Every time I send an e-mail out to a
large group, a third of the group will print the message even before
reading it, a third will read it and then print it, and the last
third will simply delete it.
One of the goals
for e-mail usage is to eliminate (or greatly reduce) the shuffling of
paper, but what chance does that have if a significant number of
people are going to print every message they receive. I’m not
saying that all messages should not be printed. I’m saying that too
many messages are printed for no reason (a lot are printed and never
retrieved from the printer).
Unless you have
a very primitive e-mail system, it probably has some system (usually
called “folders”) that can be used to permanently store messages
for recall at any time in the future. If the same people who print
messages for paper file systems would create the same structure in
the e-mail system with folders, it would accomplish the same goal,
but would save an enormous amount of paper (and trees).
Privacy, Are You
Stop right where
you are and set aside a couple of brain cells for the following
statement: there is no such thing as a private e-mail. I don’t care
what anybody says, states, swears or whatever, there is just no such
thing as private e-mail. The reason? Keep reading.
With some e-mail
systems, the e-mail administrator has the ability to read any and all
e-mail messages. If this is the case where you are located you better
hope that there is a honest and respectable person in that position.
monitor employee e-mail (I consider this one of the worst forms of
censorship). The reasons for this obtrusive behavior range from
company management wanting to make sure users are not wasting time on
frivolous messages to making sure that company secrets are not being
leaked to unauthorized sources.
is like all software in that occasionally things go wrong. If this
happens, you may end up receiving e-mail meant for another person or
your e-mail may get sent to the wrong person. Either way, what you
thought was private is not private anymore.
Somewhere in the
world there is a person (usually a hacker) who is able to read your
e-mail if he/she tries hard enough. Of course “Tries hard enough”
is the key. It’s not that simple to read another person’s e-mail
(usually) . (Usually) there are security measures in place to prevent
this from happening, but no security is one hundred percent
hacker-proof. I have “usually” in parenthesis in the prior two
sentences because I’m making the assumption that the person/persons
who install and operate your e-mail system have taken the necessary
precautions. Of course, the same must also be true for the
person/persons on the receiving end of your e-mail.
So where does
this leave us. First, let me reiterate the initial statement: there
is no such thing as a private e-mail. Got it? Second, don’t send
anything by e-mail that you would not want posted on the company
bulletin board. If it’s safe enough for the bulletin board, it’s
safe enough for e-mail. Finally, if you are debating whether or not
to send something personal by e-mail, either deliver it by hand or
send it by snail mail.
What is a
“flame” or specifically what does it mean “to be flamed?” To
be flamed means that you’ve sent an e-mail to a person(s) that has
caused that person(s) to respond in many, not-so-nice words. It’s
basically a verbal attack in electronic form. I would provide
examples, but I’m not too sure of the age of my audience and I, in
turn, do not want to end up getting flamed from the readers of this
reason for a flame is quite obvious (keep reading), but in other
cases you just never know. You might send what you think is a
harmless e-mail to ten people. Nine people respond in a rational tone
while number ten sends you a flame. Just remember that everyone sees
the world differently. You may be lucky and spend your whole life
dealing only with the people in the group of nine, but I’ll bet
that sooner or later you will run into person ten.
How do you
respond to flame? Tough question. The best answer would be to ignore
it and go about your life as logical and rational human being. If
this is not your first reaction, it probably will be after you’ve
been flamed a couple dozen times. You will find out that responses
just aren’t worth the effort. Remember that old saying about “You
can please some of the people…”.
If you do choose
to respond you will probably end up in what is known as a “flame
war”. This is where two or more people end up exchanging flames for
an extended period of time, usually to the point that users start
making references to one’s mother, one’s mental capability, etc…
At some point, all those participating in the war will eventually
forget what originally started it and go back to being normal human
flamed? Well if you are begging for it, I would suggest one of the
Send an e-mail
in all UPPER-CASE. Use of upper-case words is the equivalent of
shouting in some one’s ear. ONLY use upper-case words when trying
to make a point (such as I just did). Even at that, you should be
careful with who you are exchanging messages.
Make a comment
about grammar or punctuation. Nobody wants to feel like they are
exchanging e-mail with their eighth-grade English teacher.
mass-mailing advertisement. This is numero uno on the don’ts list
and will generate more flames than the devil himself.
Think about the
amount of junk mail you receive everyday by snail mail. Even though
you don’t want it, you find you must look through all of it because
somewhere in that stack of unwanted advertisements and wasted paper
could be your monthly water bill. The same principle applies to the
e-mail. Would you want to search through a mailbox full of
advertisements simply to find that all-important message from your
help without providing system-specific information. For example, if I
submitted an e-mail that stated “I’ve got this problem with
Word…”. Well is that MS Word for DOS, MS Word for Windows, MS
Word for Macs? What version? Version 2.0? Version 6.0?
world (and its users) is made up of every kind of computer
imaginable, from IBM PC’s to Macs to UNIX workstations to the one
your neighbor assembled in his garage.
method would be to list all the system specifics first, then describe
the problem or question. For example, if I were seeking answers to
questions about Microsquish Word for my computer at home, I would
list Gizmo Model SR-32 (Microchannel Clone, 486-66Mhz, 16MB RAM,
400MB SCSI hard disk), MS DOS 6.22, MS Windows 3.11, MS Word 6.0a and
then state the problem in detail.
Send a e-mail
asking for the meaning of BTW or
. If you’ve not already found these in this document, keep
reading. E-mail users use lots of abbreviations (not everyone can
type 200 words a minute) and other funny characters. These are two of
the more common examples — “BTW” is the equivalent of “by the
is a happy face or smile (turn your head to the left).
You would think
that since e-mail is electronic and electronic information is suppose
to move at the speed of light, your e-mail message would arrive
seconds after you send it. If you’re sending e-mail to the person
in the office next to yours it might happen that way. In most cases,
however, the message will probably take anywhere from a couple of
minutes (majority of the time) to a couple of days (in which case
there is usually a problem).
Think of it this
way. Sending e-mail locally is as easy as delivering it by hand.
Following that premise, if you had to hand deliver mail to some one
clear across the country, doesn’t that take a little more effort?
The reason it
takes longer is that in the transmission of a message from point A to
point B, the message may pass across one, two, or up to
who-knows-how-many different types of mail systems before it reaches
its destination. Remember my earlier statement? All computers (and
e-mail systems) are not the same.
No matter how
far away you are sending your e-mail message I’ll guarantee that it
will beat snail mail. On top of that you save the cost of a stamp.
A Blessing And A
E-mail is a
conversation that does not require an immediate response (like a
telephone). If someone calls you on the telephone, you pick it up
(unless you have an answering machine, voice mail or you are just
plain rude) and the conversation begins. This is an interactive
With e-mail you
send a message and then wait for a response. The response may come in
five minutes or the response may come in five days. Either way it’s
not an interactive conversation.
If a hundred
people send you e-mail in one day, so what? You didn’t have to talk
with all one hundred. Just think of all the hellos, good-byes and
other unnecessary chit-chat you avoided. With e-mail you only deal
with their messages (which usually omit hellos, good-byes and such)
and you deal with them on your own time. That’s the blessing.
Now for the
Too many users
assume that the minute someone receives an e-mail it, the person will
read it. Bad assumption.
If you schedule
a meeting for an hour from now and send an e-mail to each attendee,
the chance that all the attendee’s will read that message within
the hour will be pretty small. On the other hand, if you schedule the
meeting for the next day, the chance that they will read the message
will be pretty high. Remember, e-mail is not designed for immediacy
(that’s why you have a telephone), it’s designed for convenience.
Some (not all)
e-mail systems have features that try to combat this problem. These
features (usually called “notification”) will notify you when a
person has received your e-mail and may also notify you when the
person has read it (really all it can do is assume you that the
person has looked at the first screen of the message — it has no
way to know if the person has read the message word for word).
Referring back to the example in the last paragraph, you could check
to see who has checked their e-mail before the meeting and then
telephone those who have not read it.
If you have
access to the Internet, you may have access to newsgroups. At the
simplest level, a newsgroup is a collection of related e-mail
messages tied to a specific topic. Some examples might be a newsgroup
for users of Microsquish Word, a newsgroup for the fans of the works
of Rita Mae Brown or a newsgroup for owners of handmade bicycles
manufactured in Wisconsin. If you seen a list of the available
newsgroups, which is now well over the 20,000 range, the topics are
quite diverse and amazing.
Anyway, on to
more important items….
Don’t call a
newsgroup a anything but a newsgroup. They are not forums (that’s
on Compu-Snore). They definitely are not BBS’s. They are
newsgroups. Nothing more. Nothing less.
(think of it as sending an e-mail message) to a newsgroup, I would
highly recommend that 1) you monitor it for a few days (called
lurking) to make sure the newsgroup’s content is relevant to your
interest, and 2) read the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section if
there is one. FAQs usually will provide a statement of direction for
the newsgroup along with any other guidelines for its usage.
Following these two tenets will help you avoid that dreaded flame.
If you find that
you want to post an entry to a newsgroup, make sure it’s the right
group. Posting a message for help for Microsquish Word in the
WordImperfect newsgroup won’t get you anywhere other than a
possible flame (there’s that word again).
One last no-no
for news groups is called “spamming”. Spamming is repeated
posting the same message to a particular news group(s) for no other
reason than to be obnoxious. This is definite flame bait.
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