Email Etiquette

23 comments

Edit - September 14, 2004: I just found a great site that basically describes what I'm to say below. So if what I wrote below isn't very clear, maybe this will be better: http://kimihia.org.nz/articles/email/

It was about 10 years ago when email first started getting popular, amazingly there are still very few people who have a grasp of how to format or reply to email, nor do most people even know that there are ways that you should format your replies to make your reply more readable, this despite the fact that a very large majority of North America and Europe use email on a daily, even hourly, basis. These people aren't limitted to just the non-technical, they include everyone from your Grandma to your most technically elite email veterans and hackers.

Every day I read poorly formated emails. This usually means that neither I nor many others will read that email, especially if you're sending the email to a popular mailling list. Perhaps one day good emailing skills will be taught in school, but first the teachers will have to realize that there is something that needs to be taught. I write the following as an experienced emailer who has to read through other peoples crap replies every day.

Most of this is common knowledge and applies to email, maillists, and forums. But it takes practice to master good email communications, so keep emailing!

Top Posting
Some zeolots will tell you that "top posting" is rude and idiotic and that there's nothing more annoying than having to read through an email where some of the people decided to "top post". Top posting is what happens when you reply to someones email and leave all your text at the top.

Hi Bob,
I think that your ideas on theory X are crap

On Tuesday July 6th, 2004 Bob Wrote:
> Scott, theory X is an excellent theory. It demonstrates exactly why theory Y is
> applicable to theory Z and so much more.

Not sure where the following originated, but it summarize the evils of top posting very well.

A: Because it messes up the order in which people normally read text.
Q: Why is top-posting such a bad thing?
A: Top-posting.
Q: What is the most annoying thing on usenet and in e-mail?

Now you both know what top posting is and why it should be avoided.

In general, top posters will also leave a lot of irrelevant email below their text. This is a waste of bandwidth and diskspace. It is unfortunate that top posting is the default for many email clients, such as Outlook.

There are some cases when top posting is perfectly acceptable, and in fact could be preferred. But generally when the conversation is going to be long, or several people will be reading the email, it should be avoided.

Bottom Posting
Bottom posting is the exact opposite of top posting.

Although bottom posting is generally preferred, please bottom post with caution. I said that top posters generally leave irrelevant email below their post. Well this is far more annoying (but thankfully less frequent) when a bottom poster does this, as the readers may need to scroll for pages before they get to the message. This is probably the single largest reason why some people are actually "anti bottom posting".

Know when to hold 'em
Only keep the relevant parts of an email you're replying to. This helps the reader determine exactly what you're referring to. In a lot of cases I find it best to snip out the unneccessary email contents and insert my reply to that specific statement or idea in the middle (middle posting?).

Try not to keep loads of irrelevant content in the email. I find that often people will write something like Yes, I like that idea, but it might need some more thought even though my email had a few places that that exact statement could refer to.

Nothing is more annoying than having to reply back to a reply because you've got no clue what the person is referring to.

When starting a new topic, start a new topic
Don't reply to someone's email if yours has nothing to do with the topic. Each email contains an ID and when people thread their emails, their email client bases the threads on these ID's. If you don't know what email threading is it's basically just a way of grouping all emails relating to an original email. So if someone replies to an email those two will be grouped together.

Now, when you just reply to an email and modify the subject that email will be grouped with the one you replied to. People who thread their emails are unlikely to read your email, probably because they'll never see it.

So, instead of just replying, take the time to start a new email.

Remember, a badly formatted email hurts both the email's author and the email's reader(s).

If there's anything here you disagree with or think I should add, just post a comment (although I'm sure you would've anyway).

Peanut Gallery

RE: (Q&A sig) So the above

PK

RE: (Q&A sig)

So the above Q&A snippet is my current sig on the mutherboard.

I stole it from a dude on clcm. Not sure what the exact origin is though.
http://groups.google.com/groups?group=comp.lang.c%2B%2B.moderated

Yes, I'm aware that it's

Scott Hadfield
hadfield

Yes, I'm aware that it's your sig. That's where I first saw it :-). Also part of my inspiration for this entry. The other part of my inspiration was a thread on gentoo-user mailing list, at which point I realized that many gentoo user's aren't aware that they should follow some email guidelines either.

Gotta disagree with you

Konop

Gotta disagree with you there.. top posting is way better than bottom-posting in regular e-mail conversations. Particularly since, as you noted, top posting is default often. Nothing worse than someone top-posting and the other person bottom posting!

> Nothing worse than someone

Scott Hadfield
hadfield

> Nothing worse than someone top-posting and the other person bottom posting!

I agree with that. But would you say that top posting is good in all situations? In the Q&A situation it isn't. So instead there should be some standard that people follow, it doesn't matter which you do, but bottom posting seems to be better in more situations (at least for regular email communications).

Like I said, bottom posting is _generally_ preferred. Although, there are definately situations where top posting would be better.

Well, I guess in a Q&A

Konop

Well, I guess in a Q&A session, i know what question i last asked so i know what to expect.. so looking at the top is nice, particularly in an outlook situation because the preview goes immediately to the top, not the bottom. Depending on the length of your answer, if you bottom post, it is much harder to find the beginning of someone's reply. In a top-posting method, you can start reading their answer right away instead of looking for where to begin. Because generally you don't want to read the whole damn thing over again.

It's LIFO man! the last

Konop

It's LIFO man! the last thing in is the most likely thing you want to look at!

Furthermore, can you even

Konop

Furthermore, can you even change the top-posting of outlook? I just took a glance and I don't know where the heck to change it. And i need to change my dad's entourage... the bottom-posting bugs him :)

Well when emailing between

Scott Hadfield
hadfield

Well when emailing between just two or three people I agree with you. What I said was:

"But generally when the conversation is going to be long, or several people will be reading the email, it should be avoided."

Because some people might come in part way through for whatever reason.

There is no sensible way to

PK

There is no sensible way to bottom-post with outlook. It's a piece of shit.

And it's default is to spew out shitty HTML. HTML is absolutely horrible for carrying on a conversation.

If you feel you need to top-post, don't quote the original email. Snip it away and only send out your reply.

So: Bottom-post or only send your reply.

Whenever somebody sends me a

PK

Whenever somebody sends me a stupid email, I usually responds with this link and refuse to answer until they can muster up a decent email.

http://www.catb.org/~esr/faqs/smart-questions.html

> If you feel you need to

Scott Hadfield
hadfield

> If you feel you need to top-post, don't quote the original email. Snip it away and only send out your reply.

Word. See, often you'll get a reply quite a while after you send you message, so Konop, although you already know what you wrote, often you still need to be refreshed on what the person is replying to. Otherwise why would you need to leave any of the message there at all? It's best if the person used good snipping technique to refresh you (by leaving only what they're replying to).

It would be interesting to

Konop

It would be interesting to see what a company like GE does with e-mail policy, with their six sigma stuff. But on the whole I disagree with you two.. especially PK i guess since he is particularly against top posting. The stuff at the bottom is useful once in a while.. you scroll down to it if you need your memory refreshed. Without it, you need to look into entirely different e-mails which can be a pain. Although it wastes hard drive space, I don't believe i've ever ran out of harddrive space due to e-mail text. It keeps all the e-mails complete unto themselves, yet lets the users obtain the most useful (most recent) information easily, unlike bottom posting. Plus its the standard. So suck it up PK! Top posting is here to stay!

> Top posting is here to

Scott Hadfield
hadfield

> Top posting is here to stay!

Have you ever used maillists? Top posting is a completely pitiful excuse for a reply. As people learn more eventually they'll move away from it.

> you scroll down to it if you need your memory refreshed.

At work I get so many emails coming to me that I generally need my memory refreshed for nearly every email. But when someone top posts it's confusing because I start reading their email and I've got no idea what's going on (well, I suppose I've got some idea, just not good enough to form a reply) and then it pisses me off cause I've got to scroll down to read the last message, which often wasn't by me. Sometimes I have to scroll back down more than once depending on the size of the email.

Top posting makes the email "in its entirety" harder to read. Top posting [generally] makes the top post easier to read. If all you're interested in is the most recent message, then by all means, top post.

Mail lists are stupid

Konop

Mail lists are stupid anyways. Those were invented before the days of forums which is a more user friendly method of distributing such material IMO. e-mail as a general rule should be used in 1 to 1 situations.

> e-mail as a general rule

Scott Hadfield
hadfield

> e-mail as a general rule should be used in 1 to 1 situations.

boy, that wouldn't decrease its usefullness at all!

I visit maybe 3 forums

PK

I visit maybe 3 forums regularilly. I'm subscribed to about 30 different mailing lists and USENET groups.

Most forums suck. They don't thread. They work on slow-ass PHP, perl, or ASP from a remote server. You can't search well.

I'm guessing Konop doesn't work remotely with people on the other side of the country or the other side of the world.

>> Plus its the standard. So suck it up PK! Top posting is here to stay!

Top-posting is not the standard. It's the default behaviour for the piece-of-shit email client that Outlook is. Hell, you can even configure Lotus Notes better than Outlook.

Bottom-posting has been the standard since the 1960s, when USENET was invented. Check the jargon file:
http://catb.org/~esr/jargon/html/B/bottom-post.html
or even this:
http://www.cs.tut.fi/~jkorpela/usenet/brox.html

I think your articles

Konop

I think your articles accurately explain why top-posting is better, PK. Non-technical people like it better.

No, obviously i don't work

Konop

No, obviously i don't work with people remotely.. i'm in the middle of a huge city with tonnes of services and people... oh no wait, i'm completely isolated and work exclusively with people across the continent, and across the world, largely via e-mail.

But this usenet thing now

Konop

But this usenet thing now intrigues me.. i'll spend the next few months trying to figure out what the hell usenet is and how the hell to use it. And I'll get back to and tell you if it is cool or not.

And one further comment..

Konop

And one further comment.. when I suggested making links from the front page link to the last page of the mutherboard, I was basically advocating a system similar to top-posting and you didn't complain...

> I was basically advocating

Scott Hadfield
hadfield

> I was basically advocating a system similar to top-posting and you didn't complain...

I don't want to get into an argument over this. But what you were advocating has absolutely nothing to do with top posting. I'm sorry, but no, making the a hyperlink link to what the hyperlink says it's going to link to (which is what you were advocating, i.e. linking it to the post it was describing) has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH TOP POSTING. It has to do with reading the most recent post. If you want to argue about this please keep it on the BB.

And to state that email should only be used for 1 to 1 conversations is idiotic, unrealistic, and basically trolling, it's what the telephone was designed to do.

I'm sorry but you no longer have an argument, at least not a relevant one. Even my mom uses maillists as do several non-technical people I know. If you honestly only ever use email for 1 to 1 communication and don't use maillists, then please stop commenting on this entry, because your arguments apply to a grossly small amount of internet users and clearly do not apply to what my entry was about.

> Non-technical people like

Scott Hadfield
hadfield

> Non-technical people like it better.
My entry wasn't about what people like better. It was that people don't understand that there is a better way and that it's important to form "readable" emails.

Just because a grade 3 student doesn't like to learn how to spell words properly (after all, they can say them properly, and phonetically their spelling is correct) doesn't mean that they shouldn't learn to spell properly. It helps READABILITY. Just as good email procedures do.

Konop, if you want to write crappily formatted emails go for it. The person you're hurting most is _you_, because your target audience is less likely to read it, especially when you're sending to a group of people on a maillist.

My entry wasn't written for _my_ benefit, it was written for the benefit of others who aren't aware that good emailing skills even exist, such as yourself. If you don't _believe_ that good emailing skills exist, then fine, don't believe it. But at least now you're aware of the idea.

sorry!

Konop

sorry!