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Email Etiquette

Some notes on electronic mail etiquette

Some initial points

    1. Give you message a meaningful and accurate subject

    2. Take care over the composition - you may have a large audience. Think about the content, spelling and punctuation. Be as concise as possible. Brief messages are more likely to be read!

    3. Be careful with humour and sarcasm; they are often not communicated well by computer. The symbol :-) is often used to indicate humorous intent.

    4. Remember that mail directed to one person may well be forwarded or filed for later reading by someone else.

    Violent verbal expressions of disapproval, misunderstandings, overreactions, and hurt feelings do happen when using email. The following advice may be helpful:

      1) Hedge your bets rather than making inflamatory remarks. "In my humble opinion (often abbreviated IMHO) Arsenal are the team that effectively demonstrate all that is best in English football." By the way - BTW - is another frequent net abbreviation, for what it's worth - FWIW.

      2) Apologize. When a misunderstanding has arisen take the blame on yourself for being unclear, apologize. Say what you meant more clearly (if appropriate) and put it behind you.

      3) Avoid making provocative remarks. In a general (ie non-class based discussion list) lurk a while before you post. Try to discover what the taboo subjects are.

    Nine dos and don'ts [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9]

      DON'T include the entire contents of a previous posting in your reply.

      DO cut mercilessly. Leave just enough to indicate what you're responding to. NEVER include mail headers except maybe the "From:" line. If you can't figure out how to delete lines in your mailer software, paraphrase or type the quoted material in.

      DON'T reply to a point in a posting without quoting or paraphrasing what you're responding to and who said it. This is because a dozen postings may occur between the original message and your reply. At some sites your reply may get there before the original.

      DO quote (briefly) or paraphrase. If the original "Subject:" line was "Big dogs" make sure your's says "Re: Big dogs". Some REPLY functions do this automatically. By net convention, included lines are preceded by ">" (greater-than signs). Some mail editors and newsreaders do this automatically. Others require you to do it manually or set the "indent character"to ">".

      DON'T send a message saying "Why doesn't anybody say anything about X?" or "Who wants to talk about X?"

      It's always a risk to start a new topic (often called a thread). The group may have just finished a long, bitter war about that very subject. But if you want to take the risk, SAY SOMETHING yourself about the subject you're raising.

      DON'T send lines longer than 70 characters.This is a kindness to folks with terminal-based mail editors or newsreaders. Some mail gateways truncate extra characters turning your deathless prose into gibberish.

      Some mail editor tools only SEEM to insert line breaks for you, but actually don't, so that every paragraph is one immense line. Learn what your mail editor does.


      DO use normal capitalization. Separate your paragraphs with blank lines. Make your message inviting to your potential readers.

      DON'T betray confidences. It is all too easy to quote a personal letter in a posting to the entire group.

      DO read the "To:" and "Cc:" lines in your message before you send it. Are you SURE you want the mail to go there?

      DON'T make statements which can be interpreted as official positions of your organization or offers to do business.

      DO treat every post as though you were sending a copy to your boss, your local churchperson, and your worst enemy.

      DON'T rely on the ability of your readers to tell the difference between serious statements and satire or sarcasm. It's hard to write funny. It's even harder to write satire.

      DO remember that no one can hear your tone of voice. Use emoticons (or smilies) like :-) or ;~) -- turn your head counterclockwise to see the smile. You can also use caps for emphasis or use net conventions for italics and underlines as in: You said the guitar solo on "Comfortably Numb" from Pink Floyd's _The Wall_ was *lame*? Are you OUT OF YOUR MIND???!!!

      DON'T make a posting that says nothing but "Me, too." This is most annoying when combined with (1) or (2) above. Ditto for "I don't know."

    With acknowledgements to Patrick Douglas Crispen, The University of Alabama, University of Alabama - Tuscaloosa. This material is based on notes provided by him in the ROADMAP course 1994.

© The Queen's University of Belast.
Patrick Brannigan
Last modified: 20 January 2006