Top Ten Sources of Email Noise:
1) Typing in all caps (All uppercase text is the equivalent of shouting.)
2) Solid masses of text with no apparent organization
3) Special characters that don't display correctly
4) Overly long sentences
5) HTML code... of any kind
6) Short, terse responses when the reader is left clueless
7) Not enough white space
8) Long quoted passages
9) Including the entire list of recipients in bulk mail
10) Automatically assuming the reader WANTS to read your mail.

Back in the mid '90s (oh, so many years ago) I can remember reading an article by one of the trendy typography writers about how evil the web and email is because "You cannot typeset anything on the web," she said, " and fonts don't work!" Sure, it's not possible to make font choices, choose different point sizes, or set styles like italics, bold or underline. Even with AOL's formatting capabilities, and some of the email clients that accept html, it's recommended NOT to attempt 'typesetting' in your email. Everything has to be done with basic ascii characters.

So, your tool box offers no fonts, no posture, no styles. This means you just have to be a better designer, right? Let's design some email communications...

General Email Typesetting Rules that apply to all email:

First Rule: If it's important enough to write, format clearly.

1) White Space Aids Clarity
Solid blocks of text put the reader off. It looks too much like work -- the "readitlater" syndrome kicks in.

  • Separate paragraphs with a full blank line (carriage return)
  • Insert a hard return after about 60 to 80 characters
  • It helps to set your email font to a monospaced font, and read your email using a monospaced font as well.

2) Quote Clearly

  • If responding to a post, Quote just the phrase or entry you are addressing in the next sentence. Do not quote an entire email, then begin addressing points.
  • Edit the Quote: use just the briefest portion of the quoted material to clearly illustrate the point you'll be making next.
  • Do not put all the quote at the bottom or the top. Quote each item as you plan to address it.
  • Use the standard angle brackets (>) when quoting. I like to offset the quote a little more with returnkey-space-bracket-space:
 > this slightly indents the quote, and holds the bracket off the 
first character of the quote. Even more white space looks better, 
with double spaces:
  >  It points to the quote.
  • Make quotes shorter line length. If setting the email to an 80 character link, then perhaps your quote should be 60. It makes the quote stand off, and actually look like a quote.
  • Make line lengths as similar as possible, longest at the top, shortest at the end. (same holds true for all your paragraphs, but more on that later.)
  • Double quotes: is the quote is quoting another quote, use 2 angle brackets
      >>  like this.
  • Most readers know this means that now they're reading 3rd hand info.
  • If it's more than just one or two people contributing to the piece, then boil it down and paraphrase it. Nothing worse than trying to weed through a post figuring out who wrote what. Suddenly the reader is no longer interested in what YOU have to say, but rather in deciphering the thread.

Besides, any more than two, and you're probably quoting hear-say or a rumor, and you should reconsider posting at all.

3) Be considerate of the readers' time

  • Keep your writing friendly, yet as short as possible, while maintaining the message.
  • Try to avoid meandering, or interjecting off-topic side-thoughts in the main flow. Side bars are just that. Put all your "oh, by the way," and others at the bottom as footnotes.
  • Do not be too short. Terse, short messages have a way of saying "You weren't important enough..." or "I have more important things to do than answer your mail." Which, may be the case, but then just don't write.
  • Don't respond while online retrieving your mail. Save the mail (using your inbox, or email client's built in mail box functions) and respond while off line. This relaxes your compulsion to write too quickly.

Okay. With the basics in hand let's now turn our attention to actual typesetting and formatting of the piece.

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