This is a copy of http://www.reedmedia.net/misc/mail/using-mailing-list.html.

Some notes on how to use email and mailing lists

How to get assistance, answers, help
Off-topic postings
Proper use of subject lines
How to quote previous comments
Large emails, large attachments
Unnecessary information
Line length
Data formats
Including configurations and other files
Bad grammar, spelling, punctuation
Some other resources

How to get assistance, answers, help

The first step in solving a problem is clearly identifying it. Good reports are much easier to give good answers to. Accurate reporting of the original problem can help with producing an exact diagnosis. (Inaccurate reporting may result in a response that answers a different or unrelated problem.)

You may want to try using script(1) to show exactly what happened.

Often in many cases, being careful to get the report right in the first place leads to a sudden awareness of the mistake that was made. Consider following these steps:

Off-topic postings

People subscribe to specific mailing lists to discuss specific topics. You will probably have a better audience and you will probably find better answers if you post to a forum that is appropriate for your comments and/or questions.

Most people don't have the time to waste reading topics that don't interest them -- that is why they they are subscribed to a focused mailing list.

Proper use of subject lines

The subject line should accurately describe the topic you are discussing. In addition, don't use your subject line as your main question or statement and then fail to repeat (or rephrase) it in the body of the message.

Often, messages are simply skipped due to an inaccurate or uninteresting subject line. Sell your email by grabbing the reader's attention with an honest subject line.

Bad subject line examples:

Ap prepending "Re:" or "AW:" in a subject line means it is a reply; it was not the original posting, but an answer or comments about the previous message. If you are replying to message, be sure to have your mail client prepend an indication that it is a reply.

How to quote previous comments

When replying to another email, be sure to chop out all superfluous information. Remove any added junk, like signatures, mailing list footers, advertisements, and any other comments that don't relate to what you are replying about.

Do keep enough context in the reply to make sure that the readers know where you are coming from and how it relates.

If replying to an email that contains other replies, be double-sure that the attribution for all the comments is correct. Do not make it appear that some comments were said by the wrong person.

Some email clients attribute text by saying "you wrote". Do not use a vague pronoun -- make sure your mail client intelligently uses the real name or email address so it will be appropriately attributed.

A variety of techniques exist for quoting previous postings. Some ideas include indenting the original comments or indenting your comments. A commonly-used idea is to have a "> " placed before the original lines; most mail clients can do this for you when you select "reply". (Again be sure that the comments are correctly attributed.) It is often considered a good idea to place your comments directly after the paragraph or question it applies to.

Please be sure to place at least one blank line between your paragraphs to separate your comments from the original. (Do not place your comments abruptly next to someone elses.)

Large emails, large attachments

Don't email thousand line messages, huge tarballs, complete ktrace or coredump files, giant images, or other super large postings to a mailing list.

This wastes valuable resources -- especially when the same large file is sent to thousands of recipients. In addition, many mailing list readers often pay for their downloads. Thirdly, large emails may take a long time to download (consider 14.4 modems).

Instead, put the file (or files) on a web or ftp server somewhere, and then simply email URL. Or send a description of the huge file(s) and offer to email the big file(s) to individuals who request a copy.

This applies to binary as well as text messages.

Unnecessary information

When replying to any message, delete the majority of the original. Retain just enough to maintain context for the reader.

For example, do not have a single-line reply that also includes a previous 20,000-line message. It is also probably a waste to have a single-line reply that also includes a 20-line message.

Length of lines

It is often considered good advice to send lines that don't exceed over 65 to 75 characters per line.

Some mail clients do not wrap the long lines (very well or at all), so it is hard to read.

Some mail clients have problems quoting long lines when replying.

Data formats

Please consider using standard ASCII, plain text for your emails. many email users read their email with mail clients that can't properly convert messages sent in HTML, Microsoft Word document, etc.

In addition, when you don't use plain text for the your messages, then you may also be wasting valuable bandwidth and time.

Also, many email users don't own (or have installed) the tools to read or convert formats created by commercial (and often expensive) or proprietary software.

Including configurations and other files

The following are some ideas to consider when including configurations to help research problems or to provide examples. Also,be sure to follow the suggestions in the other sections of this document about attachements, size of emails, etc.

Bad grammar, spelling, punctuation

Often users of mailing lists have native languages different from the majority of the readers. Not everyone has the same education and background.

If your grammar, spelling and/or punctuation skills are not perfect for the commonly-used language, then that is okay. Try to use a dictionary and spelling checker first, if available or possible.

Here are some hints:


Some other resources


This page last updated on: Thu Dec 13 12:30:58 PST 2001