The official, corporate email HOWTO - whats unacceptable, wrong and downright ugly.
Email is not Outlook and Outlook is not email, thats the gist of what this document tries to convey. Outlook is one of several Mail User Agents, which implies that there is a high likelyhood that the people who you're communicating with could be using a different MUA. Outlook makes it easy for people to acquire annoying habits, though these are not limited to users of Outlook alone. Here are a few pointers to keep email simple.
In most cases, email is just a medium to get your point across. Do you really need HTML, tables, colours, different fonts, images? Your words should be able to convey what you want to without all the decoration.
Besides, if you use rich text / HTML, there is no guarantee that the recipient sees it like it appears on your screen. There's a very good chance that it looks badly formatted, has weird characters and tags. Plain text 1 on the other hand ensures that you're email looks identical on all MUAs.
Quoting is one of the most abused features of email. Quoting is retaing and referring to specific parts of an earlier email in a reply or a forward. It is often mistaken as an opportunity to explore the least-frequently-used keyboard characters, in the process baffling other email users. When used correctly, quoting adds a lot of value and makes emails easy to follow.
The Annoying Ways
Some people use weird character sequence to prefix what they're saying, which makes it very difficult to comprehend an email thread where several people are saying several things.
Some people add their names as prefix. As much as we like their names, overuse of names does get too much to handle.
Some people like to indent what they're saying. If a third person had to add something, that paragraph would have to be indented twice!
Some people like to use their favourite colours. Ugh! I don't even want to point out whats wrong with this!
Now with each one using his own creative method, we've been forced to view this kind of conversations mess very often.
The Right Way
When you quote an email and add your bit, you shouldn't be doing anything different from composing an email from scratch. i.e,
- Your replies shouldn't be coloured or indented
- It shouldn't have any prefixes and your response should start from column 1
- All levels of quoting should follow the same standard
The right way to quote an email is to use "> " as a prefix. This always ensures that the words of the sender (newest respondent) are the ones that aren't marked by the prefixes.
It's much easier to follow threads with several responses. Some MUA's even display different levels of quotations in different colours.
Email signatures are not substitute for a show-all-your-artistic-skills-here whiteboard. Use them well -
Copious, elaborate disclaimers on confidentiality is of no good. Can you have a postcard marked "confidential"? If you really need confidentiality use the right tools.
Email clients recognise the sequence "-- " on a line by itself as a separator between the email and the signature (footer). They use this standard to display signatures in a different colour, remove signatures in replies etc. Don't use any other set of characters that looks cool.
Most importantly, keep signatures concise. Nothing's more annoying than a one line email followed by a ten line mini-auto-biographic signature.
This document was written as a small contribution towards making the World better and because of a strong belief that email should be kept simple. Here's more detailed email guidelines if you need.
Microsoft Exchange server has an option to convert all plain text emails to HTML. Well, a mail-server should stick to delivering email. Just wait till someone figures out a way to tie up a MS Exchange server that's doing it. (1)