Ann Arbor Business to Business
Small Business and the Internet

Netiquette - the Polite Art of Email

June 1998

By Mike Gould

Email is one of the first services a newly-minted Internet user deals with, often badly. Messages get fired off to all one’s relatives, children’s computer art gets sent off to Grandma, announcements are sent to everyone you think has email. And then the messages start coming back: addressee unknown, mail server not found, strange messages from Daemons (!), and the like. What’s going on?

You can use various pieces of software to access your email. Your ISP will usually provide you with software and settings information to get you started, and can usually be relied upon to help when things go awry. The software provided is usually some free browser-related item such as Netscape Communicator or MS Internet Explorer; this provides everything you need for basic sending and receiving of email, plus it enables you to surf the web, transfer files, and contribute to civilization as we know it.

I personally recommend an email-specific program such as Eudora; this program gives you a better way to organize your received mail, address lists, and general email behavior. Eudora is available in a stripped-down form as Eudora Light, which is free, and as an industrial-strength Eudora Pro which costs around $40 and is worth every penny. You can get the free version from and the Pro version at finer software outlets everywhere.

Proper addressing
Back to the problems and daemons mentioned above; here’s the story: a daemon is a process that runs on a server such as an email server. It can have a variety of duties, but the daemon that you are likely to encounter is the one who detects email problems and returns ("bounces") mail back to sender with a cryptic notice. A lot of these problems have to do with mis-addressed email. (At the U of M, where I work, the servers are named after Japanese monsters, so it is not uncommon to receive an email error message from the Godzilla Daemon.)

1) All email has an @ in it; The stuff to the left of the @ is the user or group of users you are addressing, the stuff to the right is the domain where the user picks up his/her/their email.

B) There are no spaces in email addresses, especially at the beginning of an address where they are so hard to detect. A good eye can be a requirement here; learn to tweak your monitor so that you can detect things like extra spaces. Or get glasses.

III) There is no master directory for the Internet, no equivalent to the telephone Yellow Pages you rely on to find folk in the telephone world. There are instead a variety of directory services on the Web which work as long as the folk you are seeking have registered with them. In truth, often the best way to find someone’s email address is to call them on the phone and ask them what it is. Or give them your address, have them send you an email, and you will then have an address you can paste from their message into your address book.

How to avoid annoying people
• Check your email everyday, and respond to email in a timely fashion. There is nothing more annoying than sending email to someone, and then having to call them days later to see if they got the message. This is the equivalent of not listening to your telephone answering machine messages. Remember: having an email address creates an expectation in people that you are available for communication in this mode.

• Here’s one of my pet peeves: including the entire body of an original message in a reply. You send an inquiry to person A; A sends their answer back, which is found way down at the end of your entire original message, including header, body, and signature lines - you have to scroll down through a bunch of redundant verbiage to get to the meat of the matter. It is a relatively simple feat to edit out all of the junk in an original message except a sentence or two that gives the recipient an idea of what you are responding to. Don’t waste your correspondent’s time and bandwidth with repeated stuff!

• Don’t use all capital letters: THIS IS THE EQUIVALENT OF SHOUTING! Unless, of course, you are sorely miffed at the person you are addressing; even so, it would be much more satisfying to yell at them in person.

• Email tends to strip the emotional content from correspondence, often making it difficult to judge the personal context in which communication is taking place. To ease this somewhat, the convention of Emoticons has evolved: for instance, to denote that you are kidding, you can end a sentence with a smiley :-) (For the absolute newbie out there, tilt you head to the left and you will be rewarded with what passes for enlightenment here in the 90’s). There are a million of these, to denote various reactions: winking ;-) surprised :-o etc. The main thing is that this is yet another convention that is easily abused - don’t overdo it. It is best to use no more than one emoticon per email, and if you are sending business email, forego them altogether.

• Use common business correspondence practices; keep messages short and to the point. Include your phone number somewhere in your message (more on this next month).

Next month: More hints and tips for the email-challenged.

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