It's easy enough to use electronic mail, but there is an art to communicating effectively on-line. Here are some simple guidelines and/or suggestions for telecommunicating:
When writing e-mail or posting messages, be brief. You can often fit everything you need to communicate in one screen of text.
Be sure to include a descriptive title at the top of your text so the reader will know what the message is about.
For lengthy messages, compose text off-line using your word processor (refer to your electronic mail user guide for directions in how to do this). Try to keep the length of lines in your e-mail below 70 characters; short lines are easier to read, especially on a computer screen. Other peoples terminals may not be able to display more than 70 characters, so they may not be able to read the ends of long lines.
Use blank spaces between paragraphs or other logical units of text to break the text up for the eye.
Use mixed upper and lower case and standard capitalization. Mixed-case text is much easier to read than all lower or all upper case; even worse, USING UPPER CASE WHEN YOU WRITE IS LIKE SCREAMING WHEN YOU SPEAK!
Most computer terminals do not display underlined, italicized, or bold characters which are commonly used to provide emphasis in word processors. So, if you want to emphasize something you can use all-capital letters for what you REALLY want to emphasize. Another way to emphasize a word is to put *asterisks*, _underlines_, or special characters at the beginning and end of a word or phrase.
Keep your paragraphs short; in general, fewer than fifteen lines should be about right. (Notice how much easier it is to read this paragraph than the one above.)
Avoid using special keys (like tab bars), even if they seem to work fine while you are editing your mail document. Such special characters may alter the display of your message making it virtually unreadable on another persons computer terminal.
When writing e-mail, begin your text with the name of the person to whom you are writing, just like you would begin a regular letter. Even though the persons name is in the mail header, starting your letter with their name makes your message seem more personal.
If you are responding to someone elses e-mail, you might want to include short, relevant passages from the original message. This will be useful to establish context, or give your e-mail more of a conversational tone. The standard convention used in the Internet community is to: begin each line from their message with a greater than sign. However, please edit down the quoted text so that it is kept to a minimum.
Never forget that the person to whom you are sending mail is another human being, with feelings and beliefs that may be very different from yours! This can be easy to forget when you are writing someone you have never met in person, and since you may know very little about them.
In face to face conversation, there are many subtle cues provided by body language and intonation that let us know how what we are saying is affecting the other person. These cues are completely absent when using on-line postings, so strive to be concise, clear, and polite in your writing, and flexible in your interpretation of other peoples mail. This follows an old network axiom: be precise in what you send, and forgiving in what you receive.
End the text of your message with your name. Again this makes your mail or newsgroup posting feel more personal to the reader.
And finally, before sending off your e-mail message: Look over what you have written. Make sure you have said everything you needed to say. Make sure you haven't said things you didnt need to say. Make sure you have used correct spelling and grammar, but don't be overly concerned if a few typos have passed you by!
Copyright © 1995 EDC/CCT All rights reserved.
An EDC/CCT project funded by NSF HRD #9450042