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This page is based on a document I once wrote for the company I work at. It is a generic guideline on the use of e-mail. It is a suggestion, nothing more, nothing less, on how to avoid abuse of the e-mail systems used in the Internet.

Please feel free to use this information in your company or private as you see fit.




In this document the end-user will find directives, guidelines and principles for using electronic mail systems. The used mail-system can be any e-mail system like a regular POP3 server, Lotus Notes, Microsoft Exchange, etc.

A brief abstract of the guidelines:

  1. Try to be consistent, always use the same Font, avoid mixing fonts.
    Example: Arial 10

  2. Try to keep the e-mail readable.
    For example: Limit line size to for example 72 characters, do not use weird line-spacing, etc.

  3. Use the carriage return key (usually called ENTER-key) to finish a paragraph.

  4. To be as compatible as possible use plain text (also known as ASCII = American Standard Code for Information Interchange). This way all e-mail receivers will be able to read your message properly.
    Only use RTF (Rich Text Format) or HTML if you are 100% sure the receiving party's e-mail application can handle it.

  5. Use the subject-line properly and make sure the subject-header always briefly represent the contents of a message.

  6. Avoid the use of embedded objects like pictures, charts, etc.
    Example: a copy of a part of an Excel table.
    The receiving party might not be able to read it.
    It is usually better to attach them to your e-mail if needed.

  7. Use a short signature and be consistent in using the same signature.

  8. Minimize the use and size of Attachments.
    Rather use shortcuts to files on shared network-drives or websites.
    Alternatively if you need to send an attachment: use a common compression tool to compress the message.
    For example WinZip, ZipMagic, PKZip, GZip ...

  9. If supported (for example when using MS Exchange), when absent: use the "Out Of Office Assistant".

  10. Use Priority and Flagging settings properly: Only use High Priority in situation where this is appropriate.

  11. Use Tracking only if really needed.
    Tracking can be useful to see if someone received or opened your e-mail. It can also generate a lot of messages if you would use it for ALL your e-mail.

  12. If supported (for example with MS Exchange or Lotus Notes) use Calendar:
    Calendar will be the standard application for calendar management and useful for those who would like to plan a meeting with you. They will see if you're available, but other appointment's details will not be shown.

  13. General: Behave! Do not flame, spam, etc.

Generic Message composition

An e-mail message consists of several components such as Subject, Body and signature.
Make sure you use a consistent set of settings, in particular when representing a company.

A guideline:


  • Avoid mixing fonts.
    Stick to one font, for example Helvetica (Arial) 10.

  • Avoid the use of non standard fonts.
    Stick to Arial, Helvetica, Courier, Times. Other fonts might not be available at the receiving party's computer system.

  • Try to keep text-layout professional when using company mail

  • Avoid weird backgrounds, sounds, images, embedded objects, etc.

  • Use plain text format.
    Only use RTF or HTML when you are 100% sure the receiving party can actually read what your are sending.

Do not distribute messages to large groups when you are not sure all members of these groups want to receive your message. Your mail might become considered SPAM. SPAM is basically unwanted mail and usually gets deleted before reading it.


Use the subject line. Enter a brief sentence that reflects the content of your message.


Use a proper signature. The purpose of the signature is not just to say "it was me who wrote this". Most people actually use the information in your signature to contact you using a phone, fax or regular mail.
Avoid large signatures.Example can be found below.


Minimize the use of attachments.
If possible use shortcuts to a shared network-drive or Internet/Intranet location (URL) instead.
Keep in mind that not all of us have highspeed Internet access. I can assure you that downloading a 3 megabyte file using a 56Kb modem is NOT funny!

If this cannot be avoided and you really must send an attachment, then

  • Make sure the receiving party can actually READ the attachment.
    For example: an AutoCAD drawing can only be opened using AutoCAD or an application that can import this drawing. Does the receiving party use such an application?

  • Compress attachments. Use common ZIP tools like WinZip, ZipMagic, PKZip, GZip ...


Here an example how to setup a guideline for a signature:

You can use BOLD and Colors to make a distinction between your name and address.

Don't forget to add international access code. For example +31 mean The Netherlands, +1 means the USA.

Firstname Surname

Company P.O.Box
Company zipcode, city, Country

Tel.+31 1234567890, Fax.+31 365421789, GSM.+31 963258741
E-mail: something@somewhere.com, Internet: http://www.yourcompany.com

This example signature will show as follows in the different text formats:

Plain Text

Firstname Surname

Company P.O.Box
Company zipcode, city, Country

Tel.+31 1234567890, Fax.+31 365421789, GSM.+31 963258741
E-mail: something@somewhere.com, Internet: http://www.yourcompany.com



Firstname Surname

Company P.O.Box
Company zipcode, city, Country

Tel.+31 1234567890, Fax.+31 365421789, GSM.+31 963258741
E-mail: something@somewhere.com, Internet: http://www.yourcompany.com


Some e-mail applications support the vCard format for adding "business cards" to an e-mail. This can save the receiving party time when entering your information into his contacts list. However, keep in mind that not all e-mail applications support this format!

Additional Facilities and options

Keep in mind that not all e-mail servers support these options.
Most POP3 servers (regular e-mail accounts) do NOT support these features or require you to have your PC up and running 24 hours a day. These features can usually be found on company e-mail servers based on (for example) MS Exchange and Lotus Notes.

Out Of Office Assistant

If one is absent, the "Out Of Office Assistant" should be activated. Different e-mail clients may have different names for this function. Basically this is a "rule" which auto replies to received messages.

This assistant/rule can be setup using the following sample message:

I am currently out of the office due to a nice holiday.
I will be back the <day> of <month>.
For urgent matters contact <your backup person>.

Note: use the standard text-format here, since you will never be sure if the receiving party's e-mail application can handle other formats!

Message Priority and flagging

Default the message priority should be normal.
Use high priority flagging only in appropriate situations where high priority is needed.
High priority will not make the transfer of a message faster, but will - in some e-mail clients - add an exclamation before the message so the receiving party is aware of the high priority.

Flagging is used to indicate that follow up etc. is needed.

Mail Tracking

Default e-mail tracking should be off. Incidentally this can be turned on.
Mail Tracking can be very useful to verify if someone has received and/or opened a message.
This is NOT a guarantee that the receiving party actually paid attention to the content of the message, but you'll be sure that they received it.


Calendar can be very useful when trying to plan appointments with more than one person.
In order to use it, all users must use it. Not only that: your e-mail server (i.e.. MS Exchange or Lotus Notes) must support this too.

In a professional environment, we strongly recommend using it as such.

Netiquette - or: How to behave ...

E-mail, formally known as electronic mail, works very similarly to the Postal Mail, only without any paper or human labor involved. E-mail serves as a way of sending text or other data from one person to another via the local network or the Internet.

Because the Internet (and your local network) is such a new and unique medium, people are having difficulty making rules for its use. Out of sheer necessity, the users of the Internet have, over a period of time since the network was born, tended towards certain rules of network conduct. This code of network ethics has been given the name "Netiquette" a conjunction formed from network and etiquette.

Netiquette can be seen as the set of rules for gentleman like behavior.
There is nothing to stop someone from abusing the network. As with your daily actions with those around you, you will have to face the consequences of your behavior. Adherence to the guidelines below will make your use of the network infinitely more enjoyable and productive.

Large Text, Attachments and Mass Distribution

One of the great features of e-mail is the capability to attach files to your e-mail. This option offers the user to send any kind of document to an e-mail receiver, generated by Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Paint, etc.…

The downside of this option is that the size of these documents can be rather large, causing a rather long download time. Having in mind that some users have to pay for each minute they are online, this can be quite expensive for the receiver.

Therefor follow these guidelines:

  1. Send a shortcut to a file instead.
    The shortcut can point to a location on the shared network-drive or Internet/Intranet (URL).

  2. Compress the file(s) using an application like Zip, WinZip, ZipMagic or PkZip.

  3. Make sure the receiver wants to receive your attachment.

It is also very easy to send a message to groups using e-mail. However, not every user is eager to receive your message, especially when it does not concern her/him.

Special forms of mass distribution are various forms of chain letters, some examples:

  • "Get rich easy" - This is the basic version of a chain letter: send some money to the first person in the list and remove him/her from the list, place your name at the bottom of the list and send it to a lot of people.

  • "Spam" - This phenomena is mostly used for spreading unwanted advertisements.

  • "Get lucky" - If you don't forward this to a lot of people, you will end up being miserable.

  • "Hoaxes" - Mostly based on fake virus warnings, fake Good Samaritan posts etc.….

Chain letters are annoying, sometimes rude but most of the time unwanted. Most of them are either irrelevant or simply not true.


  • Make sure the receiver wants to receive your message!

  • Make sure the receiver wants to receive your attachments!

  • Use shortcuts and/or compression for large files when possible!

  • Do not redistribute chain letters!


General Behavior and Flaming

Flaming is the practice of attacking people on a personal level.

Basically, flaming is a way of showing that you don't know how to behave properly.
There is no need to become rude to people, even if they represent the worst kind of people.

Remember that a message not only reflects you, but your company as well!

Be forgiving to other people, even if they flame you. A kind word or two will leave a much better impression than a verbal barrage will.

Without the voice inflections and body language of personal communications, it is easy for a remark meant to be funny to be misinterpreted. You can convey the emotion that words alone cannot express by using such online conventions as "smiley's". For example :) when you're happy, and :( when your sad.

Remember that e-mail can start circulating, you will never know who else is reading it. It is a good idea to make your writing look as professional as possible.


  • Do not flame!

  • Be forgiving!

  • Be conservative in what you send and liberal in what you read!

  • Be careful with humor and sarcasm!

  • Make your messages look as professional as possible!


Text Format and Readability

One can use several text formats. To make a message look more colorful, one could use text formats like HyperText Markup Language (HTML), ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) or Rich Text Format (RTF).

However, sending messages in HTML format will produce garbage at the receiver's side, in case his mailer does not understand HTML or RTF. Only plain text (ASCII) that causes no display problems at the receiver's side.

E-mail is much easier to read when there are line breaks between paragraphs. The spaces divide a text in parts that are easier to read and comprehend.

To make e-mail even better readable one should be brief.

Using all capitals in a word or sentence is a way (on the Internet) to indicate that you are screaming this word or sentence.

Use symbols for emphasis (like: this is what *I* mean), and underscores to indicate underlining (like: my name is _Hans_). Note: that Microsoft Word interprets these symbol accordingly.

Keep the length of lines under 80 characters, preferable under 72 characters. Not all e-mail applications can correctly handle lines longer than 80 characters. When using the 72 character lines, the receiver will have additional space to add the ">" symbol when quoting. End a line with a carriage return.

Special control characters, like a tab-character, mostly don't work correct for most e-mail applications.

Pictures and other embedded objects should be avoided, since most e-mail applications are not able to handle these correctly or in a similar way your e-mail application does.

When responding to other users, it can be very useful to quote what they've said in order to provide context for your response. However, most of the time it is not useful to quote their entire message. It makes reading a reply very unpleasant for the receiver when you wrote their entire message. Furthermore, the size of these messages will generate a lot of traffic.

Signature files are very helpful to inform the receiver, however, long signatures are not useful and can be annoying to the receiver.

Subject headers should represent the contents of your message, when replying to a message make sure the subject-header indeed does represent the contents of your message. Replies to a message should have a subject-header starting "RE:". General rule states that one should quote text lines by starting these lines with a ">"-sign (greater than sign).


  • Do not use HTML or RTF. Rather use ASCII as a text format instead!

  • Place an empty line between paragraphs!

  • Be brief!

  • Do not use all capital words or sentences!

  • Quote only the required text, do not quote the entire text!

  • Use the format suggested for a signature in the corporate guidelines!

  • Use descriptive Subject-headers!


For important issues one can choose to encrypt a message using applications like PGP (Pretty Good Protection) or F-Secure. Beware though that the receiver must have this application as well in order to decrypt the message.
Therefor make sure the receiver has this application indeed!


  • Make sure the receiver can decrypt your encrypted message!


Proper care of e-mail

The better you manage your e-mail, the higher the performance quality.



  • Try to keep the number of messages in your mailbox at a minimum, by regularly cleaning you messages and/or storing messages else where!

  • Check e-mail regularly!




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