The E-mail rules: manage the medium

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 per cent.

Here are some of my e-mail secrets, tips to make it easier to read, and pointers for handling attachments.

E-mail that's read all over

Unless you're holidaying 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. Your customers probably won't, either.

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

Think short Limit the message to three paragraphs at most, each with no more than four sentences. If you must include more, introduce points with short previews.

Stay plain Avoid the fancy formatting, flowery backgrounds, and gaudy colours that new versions of e-mail software allow. Many people still use e-mail programs that support plain text only. Also, what's looks good on your monitor may not on mine. And that extra coding increases download time when my notebook's using a 56Kbps 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 down the file size. 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 is 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 on this month's cover CD. The ECleaner can be accessed from Outlook 2000's toolbar; I keep it on my Windows 98 Quick Launch Toolbar. Unfortunately, the ECleaner doesn't remove the e-mail headers in the original message, so you need to delete them manually before forwarding.

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 dial-up account with per minute charges - with a huge attachment. 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 to get the recipient's permission first.

You can save yourself trouble 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.

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 undecipherable. OnTrack's free PowerDesk Windows Explorer replacement can make those messages intelligible.

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Steve Bass

PC World
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