How to write (me) email

I get rather large amounts of email, and it’s my general impression that the effort it takes to handle email, can be substantially reduced, by following a few, simple guidelines. I’ve tried to gather some of these on this page, and if you’re still here and haven’t browsed on yet, I’ll be very thankful if you would read on a bit, and consider a few of the points below.

Content and formatting

  • text/plain works. I usually don’t read email in a client that renders rich text in a way that presents your message in a way you would hope. You can, however, trust me to use a fixed width font to read whatever you send to me, and whatever formatting you need, you can safely do it at character level. If you send me multipart/alternative messages, I will only see the text/plain part of it (provided it has one, of course), so make sure it does your content justice.

  • I usually ignore attachments. Obviously, if you embed images in your HTML emails, they aren’t rendered by my email client, and I make sure that most trivial attachments (logos, advertising, etc.) don’t call too much attention to themselves when I read your mail. If you need to attach something essential, which there are lots of perfectly valid reasons for doing, please unambiguously refer to them in the plain text body of the email.

  • I don’t have Microsoft Word at my disposition. Neither do I have Excel, PowerPoint or any other “standard” office utilities. I may have Pages, Numbers and Keynote occasionally, but at all times, I prefer to receive attachments in open formats. If you need to send me a document, send me a PDF. If you need to send me images, most formats will do. If you need to send me video or audio, try some variation of MPEG or OGG - Windows Media or QuickTime usually won’t do me any good.

  • I prefer ISO-8859-1 (latin1), but if you have some sort of religious attachment to your charset, I’ll make do. ASCII 7bit is just fine for English text, of course.

Composition and citations

  • Please, please write your reply below the quoted text, interleaving if suitable. Trim away anything quoted that isn’t relevant. If you take one thing with you from this page, this should be it.

  • Use a descriptive Subject: header. I usually search my inbox by patterns in the subject, and if I can’t find your mail this way, I may not get around to answering you as quickly as anyone of us hoped.

  • Please don’t ask your email client to reply a mail I sent to you earlier, just because you won’t be bothered to copy’n’paste my email address manually. If you do anyway, please strip any In-Reply-To: and References: headers from the email. I maintain a threaded overview of my inbox, and if a new mail about a new topic appears to be a reply to an existing one, I’ll walk around for the rest of the day with a puzzled look on my face.

Addressing

  • If you are addressing me with your email, eg. if you ask anything I need to answer, or include information for me personally, send the email To: me. If you just want me in the loop, send it Cc: me.

  • One notable exception from this rule, is if you send your mail to more than a few people, and I don’t know all the other recipients. In this case, send the email Bcc: me (and all the other recipients). If your email client or mail server refuses to send email without a To: header, send the email To: yourself. There’s no reason for my address getting picked up by anyone’s excessively hungry address books, and getting harvested by spammers more than it already is.

  • If I Cc: someone a reply to you, please retain this recipient as Cc: in your replies in the rest of our correspondence in this thread.

  • If you think I may have interest in following a mailing list, please ask me in advance. Chances are you’re right, but I’d like to know about my subscription in advance. If you don’t, and I don’t immediately get the drift, I may simply automagically ignore all future posts to your list, or report the delivering MX for spamming, if I’m feeling generous with my time.

Security and integrity

  • Email is not a secure mean of communication - please don’t assume it to be.

  • If you need to send me anything intended for my eyes only, you’re more than welcome to encrypt your message using my PGP public key. I usually sign all my email, especially if it’s important, or if I’ve never written you before. I welcome your verifying it, and questioning it if something seems off.