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Signature Lines E-Mail Discussion Groups NetiquetteSoftware Switching E-mail Accounts Web Site E-mail Suggestions
Although you may already use e-mail on a regular basis, here are some practical tips that may help alleviate some confusion or make your e-mail use more productive. The discussion is broadly written as there are too many variables to cover individual operating systems, network applications, client programs, etc.
Also, see tips offered by others:
Bob Brand's E-Mail Pet Peeves - A MUST READ! Also from Bob Brand's site, Email Facts of Life . If nothing sounds familiar to you on this page, then you haven't been on the 'Net for very long. More general e-mail tips, including further discussion on attachments specifically written for MS Mail and MS Exchange. Accessing the Internet by E-Mail FAQ. The perennial help file, providing tips and tricks on doing more than just e-mail with only an e-mail account. Owned by Gerry Boyd. This file is available by e-mail and has been translated into multiple languages. Beginning E-Mail from Heinz Tschabitscher of About.com. Plus, check out his online bulletin board forum to discuss e-mail issues and questions.PC Magazine: Making Order Out of E-Mail Chaos PC Magazine: Extending Internet Mail A look at Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (MIME).A Beginner's Guide to Effective Email A classic from Kaitlin Duck Sherwood. Also, if you are thinking of putting up an email link on your web page, read her comments about that first ;-)E-Mail 101 from Newbie-U. LEARN THE NET: How E-mail Works
For Individual Use
Signature lines are the letterhead of your e-mail message and more. Typically they include 5 -10 lines of contact information for you and/or your business, and are appended automatically to the end (or sometimes at the top) of each message you send. Check your e-mail software for this feature, not all have it available - but most do. If you don't find it easily by clicking on the items appearing at the top of your screen, try using your "help" button to find out where you can input your signature.
Because Internet e-mail functions with ASCII text (no bold or italicized characters, for instance), these signature lines are often dressed up with other keyboard characters. For example a signature line may appears as:
+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+ My Name -- My Company Name email@example.com http://myweb.address.com
Four lines of text and two lines of characters blocking off the signature. It usually includes contact information and may also include a line or two of promotion for a product or service. Some e-mail programs permit more than one set of signature lines to give you the flexibility of alternate personas - perhaps separate business and personal ones.
Signature lines are very important when posting messages on discussion groups. If someone is interested in your post, and wants to get in touch with you directly, the information contained in a signature line might make them pick up the phone or look at your web site.
E-Mail Discussion Groups (aka Mailing Lists or listservs):
One of the most beneficial aspects of having an Internet e-mail account is the access to people with similar interests from diverse geographical areas through mailing list discussion groups. Tens of thousands of topical discussion groups exist covering virtually every subject imaginable. Most are offered free and are automated with mailing list management software like listserv, Majordomo, Listprocessor, Mailbase, etc.
Basically, a mailing list discussion group functions by offering a central e-mail address to use for broadcasting messages to the entire subscriber base. It's important to look for a frequently asked question (FAQ) file when you first sign on, often sent to you automatically during the sign-up process. This electronic document will outline the rules of the list, defining what is acceptable and unacceptable for posting to the group. Although it sounds strict, most lists are quite informal and operate with a conversational tone. After sending your post to this central address, the software will route it to all the subscribers of the list - often 100s or 1000s of people from all over the world. Sometimes the messages are reviewed by a moderator prior to disbursement, especially on high traffic lists.
As a subscriber to a discussion group, you should expect to start receiving email shortly after you signup - unless it is a dormant list. Hang back a while and read the posts before joining in to get a feel for the personalities and the scope of discussions. When you post a message, follow the basic rules of Netiquette outlined later. When your message is posted to the group, all recipients will see your e-mail address so that they can choose to respond either publicly through the list, or privately direct back to you. Reference the relevant discussion thread (topic) in your subject line when replying to another's comments.
For more information about the mechanics of finding and subscribing to discussion groups, please visit "Mailing List Discussion Groups" and read the link descriptions. Some of these sites offer step by step directions for finding and subscribing to mailing lists. For a quick reference click here and print out.
Netiquette or Style Tips:
E-mail is an informal method of communicating, but some basic rules of style or Netiquette (network etiquette) are expected.
DON'T TYPE IN ALL CAPS. This is perceived as shouting. Use emoticons (smileys) when trying to convey a tone of voice :-) Limit line length to 65-70 characters across. Otherwise some e-mail programs will wrap the text at wrong points or not wrap it at all. Consider carefully what you write; it's a permanent record and can be easily forwarded to others. Write succinctly. Don't waste bandwidth. E-mail may be inexpensive to most, but not to all. Don't attach large files (over 50K) without getting permission from your recipient first. Don't attach files for posting to discussion groups. Turn off e-mail formatting (non-ASCII) when posting to a discussion group. Don't send entire web pages to a discussion group, just the URLs (http's). When sending a web site address, always type it in the form of "http://…" because some e-mail programs will permit the user to click on a web address to go right there. Without the "http://" prefix these programs will not recognize it as such. Don't blatantly promote your business by posting an advertisement to a discussion group, unless it is clearly an accepted use and you have cleared it with the moderator (if there is one) first. Otherwise, you are "spamming." Write descriptive subject lines. Many busy people will only open messages with captivating subject lines. Think creatively. Don't quote back an entire message when only responding to one or two points. Delete the excess and make a note at the very top before starting the quotes. Some e-mail programs will automatically set up to quote the original message when replying and put you at the end of that message. This is very annoying to your recipients. When forwarding messages, put your comments at the top of the message. Don't overuse acronyms like BTW (by the way) or IMHO (in my humble opinion). Not everyone is experienced with this jargon and they may not want to admit their confusion - possibly losing your point. Do not forward personal e-mail to a discussion group without getting the author's permission first. Read over your e-mail before you send it. Although e-mail is a more informal method of communication than writing a letter, be sure you make your points clear and concise. Use a spell checker if available.
A more detailed list of Netiquette Guidelines is available here. Sally Hambridge, Author.
Dozens of e-mail programs are available. If you're on a corporate system you may have no choice about what software to use, but if you're connecting from home then look at the reviews from Ziff Davis Labs and Internet World, linked from the "Miscellaneous" section. E-mail is text based but one of its great features is the ability to attach files (documents, spreadsheets, graphics, sound, etc.) to be carried along with the message. Some e-mail software provide features which make it easier to deal with file attachments (see also some useful links in the "Miscellaneous" section regarding file attachments and encoding). As a rule of thumb, before sending off a file attachment, find out if the recipient is using the same operating system (Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Mac, Unix, etc.) and which methods of decoding (MIME, binhex, uudecode, etc.) are available to them. If you don't have a match between these features, don't bother sending the attachment. You might consider, if it is a word processing document, database file or spreadsheet, saving the file as text and attaching that instead. As time goes by, these difficulties promise to subside and if you'd like to take advantage of the speed and cost of e-mail for transporting files between yourself and others, a good solution may be that everyone use the same software.
Another important feature of e-mail software programs is folder management. Many of my clients just keep all their e-mail in the inbox which gets so cluttered they can't find anything. Most popular e-mail programs offer the ability to sort your mail messages into folders you define. Get in the habit of keeping that inbox clean. One example of a problem which may occur when an inbox is cluttered is if someone delayed sending you a message for days. Often the date on the message would reflect the date that the message was composed which, when received by you, may insert itself between older messages that you've already read. This new message may not jump out at you.
One of the most useful features of e-mail is that it can be used primarily off-line. Most e-mail software programs (used on dial-up accounts) provide a feature where you can defer delivery of your composed messages. That means if you plan to write several messages, you can do so while disconnected, place them into some sort of an outbox, then when you're ready - connect and send them off. Conversely, once you've retrieved your e-mail you should disconnect to read them, giving others a chance to dial in on that line. Be aware that even though your software may be set to dial every time you open the program, you probably can either safely cancel the dialing process or change the setting so that it doesn't dial automatically.
E-mail software programs often come with many timesaving features which you should make a point to learn, such as:
address books (to save e-mail addresses and automatically insert them into the message) distribution lists (to save e-mail addresses of several people associated with a group, message would be addressed to the list and automatically disbursed to the group when sent) spell checking filters (to automatically sort mail, delete mail, reply to mail, etc.)
If these features are not part of your current software, there may be an add-on utility program available to accomplish the same thing. Take a look through the "E-Mail Software" links, however sometimes it's easier just to replace the program with one that offers the features as part of the package. Look through the articles mentioned earlier to find out what the strengths and weaknesses are for the choices available to you.
Switching Internet Providers/Multiple Accounts:
If you face the dilemma of wanting to change account providers or have multiple e-mail accounts, you might want to consider an e-mail redirection/forwarding service. For a comparably inexpensive fee, you can get a new e-mail alias, such as firstname.lastname@example.org
, which will typically pass through your e-mail to one or more e-mailboxes. That way, if you move or simply decide to change account providers, you can do so easily by telling the redirection service where to now send your messages. Your correspondents never need to know you've changed your underlying account provider. No unsubscribing and resubscribing from all the great e-mail discussion groups you get. You may be happy with your account provider now, but with the ever changing nature of the 'Net, it's small insurance to pay to avoid the hassle of a change if something better comes along. This is also important for people who travel for business or pleasure.
For your Web Site
When designing your web site, be sure you offer your visitors an easy way to contact you while viewing your information. Mailing addresses and phone numbers should appear on each page, but offering e-mail links and fill-out forms (which get sent to you by e-mail) are even more important. It offers an even easier, less inhibiting way of contact than calling on the phone. People may prefer to click on your e-mail link or fill out your form because it's:
cheaper than a long distance call, time zone independent (your visitor may be from the other side of the world!), anonymous (depending how you identify yourself in your e-mail software settings).
Put an e-mail link on every page and consider designing the links with pre-written subject lines for browsers that support this feature (Netscape and Internet Explorer). That way you can know right away that the e-mail you receive is coming off your web site. You could change these subject lines to read differently for each part of your site if you want to track the activity more specifically. Tell your visitors to use your e-mail links. If you have your own domain name, consider establishing multiple e-mail addresses for each type of e-mail inquiry you expect to receive - even though they may all route to one central mailbox. Use your software filters to sort them accordingly. Offer your visitors a way to sign-up to receive notice when your web site is updated. You can either use the separate URL minder service (as found here on Everything E-mail) or collect the addresses manually to create a distribution list. If you want to use these names for other promotions, be clear up front and always give them a way to get off the list. Remind them at the beginning of these e-mail announcements that they did request this information, otherwise you may experience a nasty backlash (in the form of a flame* or mail bomb**). Use autoresponders to offer frequently requested information. These e-mail bots will automatically respond to the sender with a prewritten message. Often used for brochures, price lists, directions, etc. See more at "Autoresponder (info@) Services." If you are offering something of value free on your site, ask your visitors to fill out a form before giving them access to your freebie. A way to collect valuable information. If you are using forms on your site but don't have access to a cgi-bin or other programming to parse the data, use a separate utility program on your desktop to do the parsing. Otherwise your messages will contain extra syntax which jumbles up the relevant information. See the "E-mail Software" section to find such a utility. Consider offering a discussion group or e-mail newsletter about a topic relevant to your site and invite people to sign-up from your web page. Find some helpful links at "Starting a Mailing List."
* An angry, rude e-mail message.
** Hundreds of mail messages sent to you which may prevent you from getting your other e-mail or just tie up the server.