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E-Mail Guidelines


Back in the beginning of the nineties of the last century, when the Internet became popular, there were rules for writing emails that everyone knew and everyone followed. Unfortunately nowadays these rules are getting lost. Not only technical newbies, but also software developers seem to not know these rules anymore. One of the main reason are probably some mail tools, especially those from Microsoft, namely Outlook, that do not only ingore these rules (and invent completely new ones), but that also come with an absolutely horrible default configuration.

After searching for a while on the Internet, I found here and there some pieces of rules, but no complete rule set, as I expected to find (especially in the RFCs), so I summarize the rules myself. The main reason is that if I get a mail that does not follow the basic rules, i.e. that does awful quoting or is HTML coded, I don't want to explain every time, how it should be, but just reply with a link to a source on the Internet.


  1. All email must have a descriptive subject line.
    Please note that emails can be deleted unread because they are classified as SPAM after reading only the subject. I get about 20-40 commercial emails per day, so I don't open mails with a bad subject line.
    1. If you reply to a mail, check whether the subject is still descriptive. If it is not, change it, but mention the previous subject in brackets, e.g.: «Discussion about Error Handling [Re: Summary of Meeting #5]»
    2. Use the correct prefix in the subject when you reply or forward a message, this is: 'Fwd:' for forward and 'Re:' for reply.
    3. Some good subject lines: «Comments on Review #3721», «Need help for creating new account», «'Access denied' on»
    4. Some bad subject lines: «Review», «Re: Meeting», «help!», «dear sir», «question», «Assignment»
  2. Don't send any attachments unless it's really necessary.
    Also refere to the rule following this one. If you still need to send an attachment, at least choose a goot file format: Only attach documents in well defined platform independent standard formats.
    1. Dont't use spaces or special charachters in file names
      (This rule is valid not only, but also for attachments)
    2. Allowed document formats are:
      1. wp-en>Portable Document Format (PDF): For documents that need no further editing.
      2. wp-en>OpenDocument (ODF): For documents such as letters, tables, forms, that need to be edited by the recipent.
      3. wp-en>Hypertext Markup Language (HTML): As an universal internet format, it is goot for all jobs where you neet cooperative editing, where ODF is too fat. HTML can be edited in a ny simple text editor and be rendered in any arbitrary browser. Of course JavaScript and the-like are not allowed.
        Important: HTML is only allowed in attachments, dont's send any HTML-formatted E-Mails!
      4. wp-en>Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG): For scalable (vector) grafics (in opposition to pixel images).
      5. For pixel images you may send: PNG, JPEG and MNG (also supports animation).
      6. wp-en>Vorbis: For audio files. In opposition to wp-en>MP3, Ogg Vorbis is free and not restricted by patents.
      7. wp-en>Theora: For Video files. in opposition to wp-en>MPEG-4, Ogg Theora is free and not restricted by patents.
    3. Explicitely forbidden formats for attachments:
      Forbidden are all formats that are controlled by a single company, i.e. if they can be processed by tools of a single company only. Exchange formats in the internet must be accessable by any operating system, hardware platform and with different concurrenting programs. That's why the following formats must not be used in E-Mail attachments:
      1. Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Adobe Illustrator, Quicken, …
      2. MP3, MPEG-4, DIVX (have patent restrictions)
      3. PDFs, that work only with Adobe software
      4. HTML with proprietary extentions
  3. Use the medium properly.
    Email was invented as a quick way to send plain text messages.
    1. Do not use an office suite (such as OpenOffice or «Microsoft-Office») for writing emails.
    2. Do not send HTML formatted email; it will not be read, nor RTF. Send only plain text messages.
    3. Do not send attachments unless absolutely necessary. Large attachments may result in your email being deleted without even being opened. I only read attachments, if I am curious and expect them to be interesting.
    4. If you need formatting, use ASCII formatting.
    5. Use a fixed width font for writing and reading emails.
    6. Don't use tabulator!
    7. Limit line length to fewer than 65 characters.
  4. Do not quote back a previous message unless there's some reason, but if you have to, do it properly:
    1. Only include the relevant parts, delete what's not relevant.
    2. Quotations start with a header such as: «On date name wrote:», where date is the date, and name is the name of the sender of the mail you are quoting.
    3. Each quoted line starts with a greater than: «>».
    4. Place your answer directly under the quoted line you are referencing (named interleaving)
  5. Be careful with forwarding messages, but if you have to, do it properly:
    1. Do not forward messages, if you don't know whether the original sender allows you to. In doubt, ask first!
    2. Forward in the document, not as attachment.
    3. Add some information, i.e. why you forward this mail, before the forwarded message.
    4. Start the forwarded message wit a line, such as:
      ---------- Forwarded Message ----------
    5. End the forwarded message wit a line, such as:
    6. Between these two lines, place the original mail unchanged, i.e. do not start each line of the forwarded message with a quote, such as «>», this is reserved for replies!
  6. Use good grammar.
    1. You have a shift key. Use it.
    2. You have a caps lock key. That doesn't mean you should use it. Don't write in CAPITAL letters, use asterisk for bold and underscore for underline or italic: «*this is important* and _this is emfased_».
    3. Don't use silly abbreviations, «U»1) is not a word. Neither is «b4»2) nor «84»3).
    4. If possible, run a spellchecker over your email before you send it.
  7. Be specific.
    1. Questions like «My program isn't working. Can you help?» Will get the appropriate response: «No.» We aren't mind readers. You should include as much detail as you can: list the steps you took and the results, including specific error messages (copied and pasted, not your vague recollection).
  8. Add a signature at the end of your message.
    1. Sigatures should contain all important information to contact you, e.g. email address, telefone number (also mobile), postal adress and homepage address. Only add as much information as you like to share, protect your privacy.
    2. Signatures should not exceed four lines.
    3. Signatures normally start after a line containing only two dashes:
  9. Follow chapter 2.1.1 of the «Netiquette Guidelines» for email in RFC 1855.
    The most important rules have been defined longa ago, so be aware of them.


ASCII formatting, ASCII arts

If you really need formatting, use ASCII formatting, ASCII arts, similar to the following example:

In your emails, you can use plain text formatting, e.g. a list:

 - This is the first point
 - This is the second point
   that contains two lines
    - This is a subpoint to the second one
    - Piont number three

Or you can structure your document:



If really necessary, you can even format a small table:

   | A | B | C 
 1 | x | o |
 2 |   | x | o
 3 | o |   | x

Quoting messages, reply to messages

If you really need quoting in your emails, please do it so that it is readable with any email program:

On 2003-11-05 Marc wrote:
> have been worried that his account is overdue

Yes, I see that a complaint was made on the 1st.

> Have you contacted the repossession man for retrieval

It is all arranged. I'll send him the details this afternoon.

Forwarding messages

If you have the author's permission to forward a message, do it inline, not as attachment and unchanged. It then easier to reply to and the indentation level does not in crease on every forward:

Hi, I think, you can help him, didn't you update /etc/passwd yesterday?

---------- Forwarded Message ----------
Subject: Cannot login anymore on host y

When I try to login on host y, my password is rejected.
Yesterday, everything was fine. Did you change something?

Thank you

Example of a proper reply

From: W.I.Uljanov
To: J.W.Dschugaschwili
Subject: Re: Some points to the new newspaper [Re: Decisions of Secret Meeting]
Dear Josef,

On 1899-05-19 J.W.Dschugaschwili wrote:
> I don't agree to the concept of the new newspaper

I understand your concerns, but please consider the
following points:
 - It is only a first, rough idea, details are
   still to be discussed
 - We reach a greater audience with a newspaper
 - It just needs a spark to make our ideas burn
   down the system

Regards Wladimir
W.I.Uljanov, Simbirsk


1) you
2) before
3) 福死


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