The guide below was written by Don Campell in 2000. He died in 2010 and the original is no longer posted. It is fairly short, but still it had 15 rules -- all are still relevant. But they are widely neglected. For example, many mailer don't allow allow you to change the subject of reply message. Searching for [email ettiquette 2012..2013} produce 144 millions items. Looking at top ones:

Email Etiquette, 26 rules to follow This is written by an individula who has been tracking email usage since 1997. His 26 rules take 29 webpages to explain! On the other hand, the short-form rules are clear.

Microsoft posts 12 rules written by an non-MS expert.

CBS has 9 rules Dave Johnson heard/seen on CBS MoneyWatch, formerly at Microsoft.
 January 2000 Volume 10 • Number 1 

E-Mail Etiquette

Pay attention, please: This is for your own good ... by Don Campbell

I couldn't help but notice that the world as we know it didn't end Dec. 31, 1999, at midnight. Bummer. The smoke and mayhem would have been cool. There was more action at the World Trade Organi-zation meeting in Seattle in November than there was for the 2-Triple-Ought bug.

So let's put this business of the apocalypse behind us, and get back to the business of e-mail. That's right, e-mail. Never in the history of humankind has it been so easy and fast to communicate around the globe.

So why are so many people so bad at it?

When I first dipped my hands into the cool stream of e-mail, I sensed a refreshing cleansing of America's writing habits. Since nobody wrote letters anymore, and phoning was so much dead air and rambling, e-mail would be our salvation, it would make writers of us all, I thought. We'll improve. We'll communicate. We'll treat e-mail with the same urgency of a phone call, yet we'll have valuable time to be thoughtful, to be concise, to spell-check.


Where did it all go wrong? I get scores of e-mails every day, and often very little in the way of communication. ALL CAPS. Emoticons. TAIOSOW -- terse abbreviations instead of spelled-out words. Huge attachments, jpegs, tiffs, executables from God knows where.

Here then are Don's Rules of New World E-mail Order. If you do nothing else for this millennium, pick five and follow them. Do your part. The planet will be a much better place for it.

  1. Read what you write. Proofread, proofread, proofread. And use that little spell-check function. The best advice is to go back and reread your e-mail out loud. Check for spacing and funky line breaks. Did you write "to" instead of "too"? "It's" instead of "its"? It only takes a moment, and you'll be amazed how many sentences you'll catch that either contain mistakes or don't say what you intended them to say.

  2. Use a descriptive subject line. Put something clear and concise in the subject line of your e-mail. This helps your recipient know what's ahead. Don't be cute, don't be coy, and don't be oblique.

  3. Don't write in all caps. In the on-line world, that's akin to yelling at the top of your voice. If you must shout, do it judiciously and for effect. But more importantly, the human eye has a hard time concentrating on the monotony of all caps. This is not a telegram you're writing. So quit it. Same goes for all lower-case. You're not e.e. cummings. Don't mumble.

  4. Avoid emoticons. Aren't they cute? Those little :) and :( and whatever the hell else they've come up with. Please stop. If you can't do it with words, a little typographic picture probably isn't going to help. It's like people who sign their names with little hearts over the i's instead of dots. It's a sign of weak moral character. Just kidding. No flames, please.

  5. Be careful with abbreviations. They're like trying to read vanity plates on the highway. Unless you cut your teeth in AOL chatrooms, do you really know what IMHO means? Or LOL? Or ROTFL? Don't assume that your recipient knows what these lazy and obnoxious abbreviations mean. Aside from the occasional BTW (by the way), refrain from using these in general. SUTOIWHYDLTDYA (Stop Using These Or I Will Hunt You Down Like The Dog You Are...). CUL8R...

  6. Simpler is better. Write simply and concisely and clearly. Say what you mean. Use proper punctuation. Ever hear of the paragraph? It's amazing, but all of those simple rules you learned in high school are just as effective in e-mail as they are on the printed page. Go figure.

  7. Edit what you forward and attribute authorship. If you absolutely must forward the latest joke making the rounds, the most current urban legend (and no, Microsoft will not send you $249 just for your e-mail address), or the heartfelt homilies found on bumperstickers, remove the several thousand e-mail addresses that show the route this particular e-mail took. There's nothing I hate more than taking five hops to scroll down to the payoff, however feeble it might be. Like telephone solicitation at dinnertime, my patience is shot and I generally delete the email as soon as I see the first 50 TOs, FROMs and e-mail addresses.
    But in the unlikely event that the forwarder actually included the name of the person who created the joke or story or whatever, make sure you keep that in. Sending stuff around without the author's name is that quaint form of stealing known as plagiarism.

  8. Send attachments judiciously. Use attachments sparingly. E-mail was never intended as a vehicle to send megabytes worth of files, be they pictures, cute little executables that put animated graphics on your desktop or Word documents the size of a James Joyce novel. In fact, as soon as I realize the attachment is any of the above -- especially an .exe file -- I dump it immediately. Why? * They're bandwidth hogs and slow up any email server. * Unless I know where it has come from, and unless I am expecting it, I assume the worst: it's nothing I want, it contains a virus from some black hole in cyberspace, and it's a pain to download.
    Once upon a time, I received a cute little executable that was your basic faux warning window that alluded to the size of my, um, gender-specific plumbing. It was cute for about 10 seconds. Then I forgot about it. Several months later, my virus-detection software caught it as a rather nasty invading Trojan horse virus. Close one.

  9. Save attachments in usable form. Not all e-mail software is alike, which means not everyone has Word 8.0 or the latest version of Excel. Therefore, if you must send an attachment, determine what your recipient can handle. Be safe. Save and send docs in formats most people can use. When in doubt, save Word files in the Word 6.0 format and Excel files in the Excel 5.0 format on the PC. Macintosh users can use Word 5.1 or 6.0 and Excel 4.0 or 5.0.

  10. Shun spam. I'm getting more than ever. Most ISPs are taking steps to alleviate spam, but spammers are an insidious lot. Spam, for the uninitiated, are the piles of unsolicited e-mails that promise you fabulous riches with multi-level marketing schemes, millions of e-mail addresses so you can send out your own spam, and the chance to WORK AT HOME AND MAKE $10 MILLION A WEEK! It's amazing how many ways there are for some unscrupulous person to round up your e-mail address.
    You have two options: 1) toss it unceremoniously into the trash unopened, and 2) report them to your ISP or to a nifty little Web site run by a guy named Rolf, called the MMF Hall of Humiliation. Rolf is doing everything he can to publicly embarrass those who spam and scam. How do I know? I once did an experiment on spamming for these very pages. You can read more about it at Whatever you do, do not respond to spam. Ever.

  11. Don't fuel the fire. We've all sent angry e-mails. Sometimes it's unavoidable. Do it sparingly. And play fair. If it helps, write your flame and sit on it over night. You'll feel better in the morning.

  12. Protect your privacy. Privacy on the Internet? Ha, I say. Don't write anything in an e-mail that you wouldn't want your mother, your significant other or a jury to read. I'm not kidding. I know we all send mushy e-mails, and incriminating ones, and sometimes even really tasteless ones. Be careful. Most systems administrators have far more access to your e-mail than you ever thought possible. There have been known viruses that will grab your e-mail and send it out into the world. And every now and then, things get accidentally sent that weren't supposed to. Especially in a corporate environment.

  13. Manage your mail. Read your e-mail regularly. The immediacy of e-mail is lost if it sits unnoticed in your mailbox for long periods. Delete unwanted mail from your mailbox to save space. Save your mail to a local disk to keep a record without cluttering up your mailbox. Attachments are particularly space-consuming.

  14. Don't get fancy. Plain text or HTML? Newer e-mail client packages, including Microsoft Outlook and Netscape Communicator, have the ability to send and receive e-mail in HTML form (not to mention bold, italic, and colored type), so that it has the potential to look like a Web page. Messages can contain all of the elements of a Web page, including graphics, forms, interactive content, et cetera. This is a great thing, right? Well, yes and no. The fact is, if you send a message in HTML format and the recipient is unable to view HTML mail with their program, your message will look something like this:

    Look at this! It's a <font color="#FF0000">message</font> in <font color="#008080">HTML</font>! Pretty neat, eh? It can have images, <i><u>styled text</i></u>, and much, much more!<br>
    See ya,<br><h2>
    <b>Net Boy</b></i></u></h2><br>

  15. Break the chain of chain letters. Please. Do I really need to go into this? Just don't. Ever. Respond to chain letters!

Editor's note: If you're interested in how e-mail affects how we write, read Wendy Leibowitz's article Technology Transforms Writing and The Teaching of Writing The Chronicle of Higher Education, November 21, 1999 ( 06701.htm). -CM.

Your comments and suggestions are appreciated.
Don't cite this page:
This is copytrighted by Don Campbell. Is is posted here for class use under "fair use."
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