NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article
Home Office: The E-Mail Rules-- Manage the Medium
Steve Bass reveals how to catch his eye
with a comely e-mail message.

By Steve Bass, Contributing Editor, PC World, May 2001
Copyright 2001, PC World, reprinted with permission
(click to email author)

Like getting e-mail? Cool, I'll forward you some of mine. Be careful what you ask for, though. I send roughly 22,000 e-mail messages a year and receive more than twice that amount. How do I know? Eudora, my e-mail client of choice, tracks all my e-mail use, reporting, for example, that about 3500 of the messages I received last year had attachments, of which I read only about 60 percent.

I have e-mail secrets: tips to make it easier to read, and pointers for handling attachments. They're yours -- and if you e-mail me, please promise to use them.

E-Mail That's Read All Over
Unless you're vacationing on a desert island, your time is tight. So is mine. If you send me a long message and I don't know you, I probably won't read it -- especially if it has an attachment. Lengthy messages from friends I read when I have the time. (Okay, so I scan them. Sue me.)

My point? If you want your messages read, consider your recipient. That's what these rules are all about.

Think short: Limit the message to three paragraphs, tops, each with no more than four sentences. If you must include more, introduce points with short previews -- for instance, "Deadline? Did I miss it?"

Stay plain, Jane: Avoid the fancy formatting, flowery backgrounds, and gaudy colors that new versions of e-mail software allow. Many people still use e-mail programs that support plain text only. Also, what's cool on your monitor may look like hell on mine. And geez! That extra coding increases download time when my notebook's using a 56-kbps dial-up account.

One person, please: If you're sending an e-mail to a large group of people, hide the recipient list to keep the file size down. It's all right to use your e-mail app's carbon copy (cc) feature if you need to let everyone know who else is getting the message, but otherwise use the blind copy (bcc) feature. Address the message to yourself (or leave the "To:" field blank, if your software allows it) and bcc everyone else.

In Outlook Express, select View and check All Headers. In Outlook, choose View and check Bcc Field. In Netscape 6, click the To field and scroll to Bcc. Eudora's the easiest -- just fill in the "bcc" field.

Clean it up: Forwarded messages are usually overloaded with annoying angle brackets (>), extra spaces and carriage returns, and uneven word wrapping. That's one reason why I don't read them, and you shouldn't be surprised if the messages you forward aren't read either.

You can scour the e-mail you forward to get rid of the gobbledygook. All it takes is a quick cut and paste into The ECleaner freeware utility that's available at our Downloads library. (http://www.pcworld.com/downloads/file_description/0,fid,6492,00.asp) The ECleaner can be accessed from Outlook 2000's Toolbar; I keep it on my Windows 98 Quick Launch Toolbar.

In order to use ECleaner on your Outlook 2000 toolbar, you'll need to download their add-in. It's located at: http://members.tripod.com/schin26/ecaddin.zip.

Unfortunately, The ECleaner doesn't remove the e-mail headers in the original message, so you need to delete them manually before forwarding. (AOL users have to work harder. AOL doesn't show you the forwarded message's sloppy formatting, so copy the message into a text editor, clean it up, and paste it into a new AOL e-mail.)

Risky Attachments
Every e-mail I send or receive that has a file attachment carries built-in risks. Viruses and Trojan horses are the most obvious, but file size is another. I found this out after I accidentally tied up an editor's $2-per- minute dial-up account -- for 40 minutes -- with a huge attachment. (Not smart.)

Unless you know the person, don't attach anything -- images, programs, or Internet movies -- to an e-mail. If you must, and if the file's larger than 100KB, be sure you get the recipient's permission first.

You can save yourself grief by setting your e-mail program not to accept attachments over a specific size. And always play it safe -- before opening a file, save it to a convenient folder and scan it for viruses. There's no space to do so here, but I'll provide step-by-step details for these filtering and scanning procedures in my May online newsletter at: http://www.pcworld.com/resource/newsletters/index/0,sub_source,PCW_XD,00.asp.

BinHexed? Thanks, No.
Occasionally I receive e-mail with an attachment that looks like it's been sprinkled with sawdust, but it has probably only been UUencoded, MIME'd, or (cover your ears) BinHexed, rendering it seemingly indecipherable. OnTrack's free PowerDesk Windows Explorer replacement can make those messages intelligible. Find it at our Downloads library.

Don't touch that dial! In June's PC World, I'll tell you all about filters that manage your incoming e-mail and eradicate spam.

Steve Bass is a Contributing Editor with PC World and runs the Pasadena IBM Users Group. Write to him at steve_bass@pcworld.com. Check PCW's current edition at http://www.pcworld.com/resource/toc/index.asp and sign up for the Steve Bass online newsletter at http://www.pcworld.com/bass_letter.

Click here to return to top