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David A. Wimsett
Providing Technological Solutions

David's interest in technology extends back to his teen years with science fairs and amateur radio. He is fascinated with hardware, but his real interest is how people use technology. David's goal in providing technological solutions has always been to listen to the end users.

Email Etiquette

Electronic mail, or email, has become engrained in our lives to such a degree that people have a hard time understanding how they ever lived without it. Indeed, many younger people have known it their entire lives.

It's a great way to keep in touch with relatives and friends and has become the defacto standard for business communications. So much so, that a copy of an email is considered a legal document. Email is often used in place of telephone conversations because of its immediacy.

As useful as email is, there are some pitfalls that you should be aware of..

An email is immediate. It goes out as soon as you press the “Send” button. There is no way to recall it or change it. This has caused many people grief, and some their jobs, when they typed something in the heat of the moment and fired it off. An angry rant can well up from inside and result in a screen full of rash words. As well, in just sitting down and typing a letter, you might not phrase something in the best light or leave out an important detail. This is because email can feel like a conversation. But, unlike words said in haste, an email stays around for years.

Let's trace how an email gets to someone else. It starts in your computer with an email program such as Microsoft Outlook, Mac OS X Mail, Mozilla Thunderbird, Opera, Eudora, or a host of others. They all allow you to compose mail, send it, and receive mail sent to you. But, your computer does not process email. That is done by a server, a special computer that routes Internet messages. To access the Internet, you have a contract with an Internet Service Provider, or ISP. This might be your telephone or cable company. When you click the Send button, your email is transferred to a server where a copy is made. Your server then routes the email to the destination server that the person who you sent the email to uses to access the Internet. She or he than uses his or her own computer to connect to that server and retrieve the letter you sent. Because of the web-like nature of the Internet, your email may be routed through dozens of servers before it finally gets to its destination, and each one of them will retain copies of your email. In addition, servers make regular backup copies of their files, including your email.

Because of this, you should never put anything in an email that you wouldn't mind seeing on the front page of every newspaper in the world. It was through recovered email that many high profile white collar crimes have been successfully prosecuted. This advice also applies to instant messaging, which is routed through the Internet in exactly the same manner..

Take time to compose your letter. I write the text of all my emails in a word processor where I have access to advanced editing tools. Each email is rewritten several times to make certain it says what I want in the way that I want it said. By having this buffer, I won't be tempted to flash something out that I might regret the next day. When I'm done, I copy the text from the word processor and paste it into my email program. It's an extra step, but it ensures the email is accurate and impactful. I do this for both personal and business correspondence.

One of the fun things you can include in you emails are emoticons. These are small pictures that indicate an emotion or intention. They started off as text because email predates the graphic user interfaces such as Mac OS and Windows.

You can indicate something makes you happy, or has a happy connotation, by typing a colon, a dash, and a close parenthesis like this :-) . You have to look at it sideways to see the picture. The colon forms the eyes, the dash the nose, and the parenthesis the mouth. You could also use a colon and dash with an open parenthesis to indicate frowning :-( .

Typing a semicolon followed by dash and a close parenthesis looks like a person winking ;-). A colon followed by a dash and a lower case letter “o” can express surprise :-o . Most email programs allow you to insert graphic emoticons such as for a happy face. An entire industry has grown up to create these symbols and online merchants can be found all over the Internet. Just search for emoticon.

Although they can be fun, they can also become annoying if overused in the way that some people place exclamation points at the end of nearly every sentence. One emoticon can draw attention to a point. A page filled with emoticons will cause them to blend into the background as if there were none at all.

Another way some people try to show emotion or indicate intention is to write words and even entire sentences all in capital letters. DO NOT DO THIS BECAUSE IT LOOKS LIKE YOU ARE SHOUTING AND MAKES IT APPEAR AS IF YOU ARE ANGRY. It is also very condescending and makes people think that you are talking down to them.

Some people compose emails using a Joyce-ian stream of consciousness approach. Such a person will type out a single, massive block of text that may not even contain complete sentences as the writer charges from subject to subject. For example:

Jimmy went to the shore last week and saw the boats come in from the race–some of us wanted to go but were tied up-seems we always get into a tussle when talking about time-it was just last year that Uncle Sid went out to the fair and Aunt Maud didn't-the cotton candy wasn't so good but we had a nice time-the race was in the afternoon, by the way-i was thinking of coming over the other night but the water was off and i wanted to see what the plumber would say-Jimmy wants to know if you want a poster of the race-the plumber wasn't long and I think he found a mouse in the pipe-Sid did win a cupie doll for Maud and she liked that-Tom

This is very difficult to read. The lines get jumbled together and it is hard to understand what the sender intended to say.

Take the time to write your letters in sentences and paragraphs as you would when writing a letter on paper. Organize your thoughts and present one point per sentence. Group sentences about a similar subject into paragraphs and leave one blank line between paragraphs. This will make reading your letters a joy rather than a task, and it will help you get your point across more effectively. The letter above could be rewritten as:

It's been a year since we went to the fair with Uncle Sid and he won a cupie doll for Aunt Maid. She didn't go, but she liked the doll. We certainly had a nice time, although the cotton candy wasn't very good.

I would have come over the other night but I had the water off and was waiting for the plumber. I wanted to see what he would say. He didn't take long to find something in the pipe and I think he said it was a mouse. We flushed the water and all is right now.

Jimmy went down to the shore one afternoon last week and watched the boat race. Some of us wanted to go, but we couldn't agree. We always seem to have an argument when deciding what to do. At any rate, Jimmy asked if you wanted a poster from the race.



Sharing photos over the internet is a wonderful way to keep family and friends up to date. There are also photo sharing sites such as Kodak Photo Gallery and Flicker that allow you to copy photos to a server where selected people can view them.

Attaching photos to a letter is easy. Most email programs have an “Attach” icon that usually looks like a paperclip. With it, you can send any file in your computer, photos, spreadsheets, word processing files, etc.

When sending photos, however, think about who is going to receive them. Photo files created with the high resolution setting of a digital camera can create extremely large files that can be over 3 megabytes in size. That's the equivalent of 3,145,728 characters in a text file, or about 3 novels (imagine pressing any key on your keyboard that many times). A file that large can take time to send and receive. This might only take a few minutes if the person you're sending the email to has a high speed Internet connection. If, on the other hand, he or she is using a dial-up Internet connection, it could take hours. Most digital cameras come with software that allows you to download pictures from the camera and manipulate their size. Use this to reduce the size to 600 by 400 pixels or less. That will still produce a very fine photo at the other end and not tie up the phone line.



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