[EAS]Email Format and Style

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Sun Jul 29 17:38:59 EDT 2001

Mail*Link® SMTP               Email Format and Style

Dear Colleagues -

This item may strike you as unnecessary and elementary advice until
you ponder all the hodge podge you receive via email each day, even
from well-intentioned co-workers. 

Arguably the "killer app" of the Internet, email practices still
leave much to be desired. A steady supply of unneccessary mail
program features can keep even the experienced confused, but
probably most important is a sense of the medium's strengths and

Your own email use is probably perfect, but you surely know others
to whom you can forward this as useful advice.

All best,  --PJK

"To be good is noble but to teach others to be good is nobler and
less trouble."  --Mark Twain

	"desk-top faculty development, one hundred times a year"

           Note: Previous Listserv postings can be found at:



The posting below is a little out of the ordinary for the TP 
Listserv, however,  it offers some good advice regarding e-mail 
correspondence. It is taken from:

A GUIDE TO WRITING AS AN ENGINEER, by, David Beer, Department of 
Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Texas at Austin, 
and, David McMurrey, IBM Corporation. Copyright © 1997, by John Wiley 
& Sons, Inc. New York. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Rick Reis
reis at stanford.edu
UP NEXT: Internationalization for the Twenty-First Century

			Tomorrow's Academy

	----------------- 1,049 words ------------------


Format for the heading portion of e-mail messages is quite simple, 
most of it being handled by the e-mail program itself. You fill out 
the address (or addresses) to which you want the mail sent, add a 
brief phrase indicating the contents or purpose of the message, and 
specify any other address to which you want the message copied (Cc:)

An additional formatting element to add to your professional e-mail 
communications is a "signature." Instead of just signing your name at 
the bottom of your note, construct a signature containing your full 
name, title, company, e-mail address, regular mailing address, 
telephone number, and other such detail. Signatures work almost like 
business cards; many people use them to get in a quick bit of 

As for style in e-mail messages, here are some suggestions:

* Typos and Other Kinds of Mistakes.

There is some controversy about how much to worry about writing 
mistakes in e-mail. While no one wants to send out messages with 
typos or grammar problems, the speed at which we typically generate 
e-mail makes it inevitable. This problem is compounded by the fact 
that some e-mail software makes it difficult to go back and edit 
preceding lines. Except for very formal electronic communications, 
most people disregard or even expect occasional writing glitches in 
the e-mail they send or receive.

* Informality.

The tone of e-mail communications is generally informal. At its best, 
electronic communications is a wonderful, ongoing, international 
group-help conference with everybody pitching in and either asking 
for help or providing it.

* Brevity.

E-mail messages are normally rather short-for example, under a dozen 
lines-and the paragraphs are short as well. No one likes having to do 
a lot of extended reading on a computer screen. When they must send a 
lengthy note, e-mail senders often put a warning toward the top of 
the message or even in the subject line such as "Lengthy note 
[Brevity is usually the injunction and privilege of those in
authority. Those who deal with all the resulting nitty-gritty can
seldom be so brief. --PJK]

* Specific Subject Lines.

If you want your e-mail to be read and have the impact you intend, 
make the subject line specific and compelling. Once people get 
involved with e-mail, it's not uncommon for them to log in and find 
sixty to seventy messages waiting. All that mail appears in a simple 
list with only the senders' computer IDs and subject lines showing. 
Therefore, if you want your message to get recognized for what it 
contains, the subject line must convey as much as possible within the 
space of some 25 to 35 characters.
[So very important, yet often ignored. Consider also that this
applies to forwarded messages. You as forwarder may have to clean
up what others neglected. --PJK]

* Put the Most Important Information at the Top of the Message.

Active e-mail users tend to lose interest or patience quickly. Make 
sure that the most important information gets in at the beginning of 
your message. Some of us tend to beat around the bush before we get 
down to our main topic, point, request, or whatever it is we are 
writing about. On the Internet, we'll also tend to get ignored!

* Limit the Width of Your Messages to Sixty characters.

For some recipients, the width of your message is not a problem; 
their e-mail software will reformat it. But for others, it can be 
real headache: lines that are too long break in odd, distracting 
ways. For that reason, limit your line to sixty characters.
[70 character lines are ok too, as far as I'm concerned, but _not_
longer. --PJK}

* Use Short Paragraphs and Skip an Extra Line Between Paragraphs.

Whenever possible, break your messages into paragraphs of less than 
six or seven lines. And when you divide your message into paragraphs, 
skip an extra line between them.

* Take a Different Approach to Emphasis.

In e-mail communications, we don't have underscores, bold, italics, 
different type styles or sizes-at least not yet. Some e-mail writers 
resort to all-caps. Maybe an occasional NOT is okay, but extensive 
use of capitalization for emphasis is unpleasant to read. Instead, 
adopt the e-mail world's approach to emphasis: not or not or <not>.
[Bracketing important words in *asterisks* or _underscores_ also
works. --PJK]

* Use Only the Basic Character Set.

Use only the characters that you see on your keyboard: the letters, 
the numbers, and the symbols that you see on the key-tops. Anything 
else may not format properly when the recipient views it. For 
example, you might be tempted to use the ASCII box characters to set 
up a border around your e-mail signature, For some recipients, that 
won't work! Use the - (hyphen) and the | (bar) and the + (plus sign) 
keys only.
[I detest fancy email, like html. Only plain text should be used.

* Use Headings and Lists.

If your e-mail message is long (say, over forty lines), use headings 
to identify and mark off the various subtopics within the message. If 
you have key points to emphasize, if there is a series of points, or 
if there is step-by-step information to send, use the various forms 
of lists that are available. Use an * (asterisk) in bulleted list 
items. Use a simple number followed by a period for numbered list 

* Use Tabs, Not Spaces, for Indentation and Other Special Alignment 
and Margins.

In word-processing programs like WordPerfect, AmiPro, and Word, you 
may have noticed that you can't create an indented paragraph by 
hitting the spacebar the same number of times for each indented line. 
The same is true for most e-mail messages. Use the tab key instead.

* Exercise Caution with Humor and Sarcasm.

Skillfully working humor and sarcasm into writing is hard in any 
medium, but it's particularly challenging in electronic 
communication. Typically, we write e-mail messages rapidly and send 
them off without as much scrutiny and revision as we would a 
print-based communication. This makes humor and irony a chancier 
affair. And the risk is increased because recipients generally read 
their e-mail much more rapidly than they do printed copy. Many people 
end up using "smileys" to ensure that their humor to ensure that 
their humor, sarcasm, irony, or other attitude is interpreted 
correctly on the receiving end.

* Be Careful with Automated Replies.

The reply function in e-mail is a wonderful time-saver. It eliminates 
the business of having to create a new message and type in the 
recipients address. However, e-mail is often addressed to multiple 
recipients. Imagine that a colleague has written e-mail to you to 
discuss some aspect of a project and that, in your reply, you raise 
some questions about the competence of another partner in the 
project. But what if your colleague had copied (Cc:) that partner on 
his original note? Uh no...Always check the original message for 
other recipients.


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