Don't Send That E-Mail (Read This First)

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Are you guilty of sending annoying e-mail? Of course you are. That's because what you think is cool can drive someone else (probably me) up the wall.

I have a handful of examples in my recent "Hassle-Free PC," "E-Mail That Gets Your Message Across." I sometimes seem to write more than I should [no fooling.--Editor], so here are a few ideas I had to leave out of the print column.

But before I start, I suggest you take a quick look at Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home. Written by Will Schwalbe and David Shipley, the book takes potshots at our e-mail habits (I promise you'll think they're writing about you--and me). The book gives solid, useful e-mail advice using a funny, beguiling, poke-me-in-the-eye style. It's cheap, is selling it for about the price of a couple of fancy brews at Starbucks.

Things That Drive Me Up The Wall

Don't Be Cute. Do me a favor and save the garish background wallpaper, images of your dog, and unreadable Victorian script fonts for your 12-year old niece. (Apologies to your niece.) It hurts my eyes and is unreadable. Stick with easy-to-read plain text or Arial font.

You think I'm kidding? Michael England, PC World's crackerjack Webmaster, once told me about the background wallpaper on a reader's message. The text and background were so gaudy, he says, "I had to copy the text and paste it into a new message in order to read it." Ever so polite, Michael suggested to the writer: "You may wish, especially for business correspondence such as this, to consider sending messages without a wallpaper background."

Don't Use Icons. Stop using those annoying, animated IncrediMail icons. They clutter up the message and the flashing gives me a headache.

Don't CC Everyone. Unless it's necessary, and I mean absolutely essential, keep your CC: list shorter than the content of your message. The last one I got, from a PR flak who oughta know better, ran three screens long. I saw names of journalists I hadn't seen in years and didn't know were still alive.

Don't Be a "Me, Too." You're on an e-mail list, maybe a YahooGroup, and a message describes something you've experienced. Your impulse is to fire back a note with a very cathartic "me, too!!" Please don't. I'm pleased that we've had a shared incident (no, really, that's the humanist in me), but for God's sake, don't; we all have to plow through way too many e-mails as it is.

Dig This: The Japanese IQ Test is incredibly annoying, impossible to solve, and according to Alex, who sent this to me, "a massive, epic waste of time. Epic." No lie--and good luck.

Smart E-Mail Ideas

I don't think I can ever say enough about dopey e-mails--and I have a few more examples of messages that make me want to give up reading e-mail.

Use a Signature Line. A sig line is cool and useful, and I recommend you have one. A line or two with your e-mail address and maybe a link to your oh-you-gotta-visit-my-home-page is enough for me. And do everyone a favor and drop the 50-word resume, your favorite political rant, or the lengthy quote from Benjamin Franklin.

Use Plain Text. In the business world, font frenzy could cost you plenty. Say you're using Outlook Express and your font of choice is Comic Sans MS. You set the font size to look good on your 36 inch, wide screen LCD set at a 2048 by 1536 resolution. I open your message in Eudora and the fonts fill my 800 by 600 resolution screen. I get to see, like three giant-sized letters. (Okay, you're right, I'm at a higher rez, but you get the idea.)

If you're unwilling to use plain text (also known as ASCII), your best bet is to stick with a standard font like Times Roman or Arial at a reasonable 10 or 12 points.

Even More E-Mail Tips

I'm not the only one who has strong opinions about e-mail techniques and strategies. Jim Martin has plenty to say in "E-Mail on Vacation."

Scott Spanbauer figured out a way to get around the annoying way ISPs may stop you from sending e-mail to multiple recipients. Read "E-Mail to Many Without Looking Like a Spammer" for details.

At Demo 07, Network World's Keith Shaw interviewed a representative from CircleUp, a Web tool that lets you e-mail a bunch of people and have everyone's responses put into one e-mail reply. Watch the video (and turn down your volume).

This may come as a shock, but some people are addicted to e-mail. (No kidding.) I came across an article, along with a 12-step program, to help you alleviate your e-mail craving.

Dig This: Give photographer Cyrus Khamak a macro lens for his camera and you'll be amazed by what he comes up with. [Thanks, Lou!]

Steve Bass writes PC World's monthly "Hassle-Free PC" column and is the author of PC Annoyances, 2nd Edition: How to Fix the Most Annoying Things About Your Personal Computer, available from O'Reilly. He also writes PC World's daily Tips & Tweaks blog. Sign up to have Steve's newsletter e-mailed to you each week. Comments or questions? Send Steve e-mail.
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