"A Vote For HUMAN Is a Vote For PEOPLE"

Tips For Writing Intelligible E-Mail

For those of us who have been writing e-mail since the 1990s, it may seem obvious how to write an e-mail message that's easy for the recipient to read and understand. However, over the decades, the content of electronic mail messages have generally become more and more sloppy and difficult to understand.

To ensure that your e-mail has the greatest chance of being read and taken seriously, it'll help to follow a few simple tips:

  1. Do not use HTML mail. Stick to to plain text. Use Content-Type text/plain, not text/html. If you must use HTML, please use Content-Type multipart-alternative and include a text/plain part.
  2. Use Usenet quoting, as appropriate, to establish context. Bottom-posting generally includes too much context, and top-posting (toilet paper quoting) makes context difficult to decipher, especially when mixed with other quoting styles.
  3. Try to make your message well-organized and coherent. Rambling, haphazardly-written messages are more difficult to understand and more difficult to take seriously.
  4. Do not use Content-Transfer-Encoding base64 for anything other than binary attachments. Try to avoid quoted-printable, too. Wrap long lines so they're no more than 76 characters long, and avoid using a space or tab as the last character on a line. This will help avoid the need for your mailer to appply a Content-Transfer-Encoding to your message.
  5. Try to avoid sending very large messages. If you need to send a large file, consider sending a URL for it, instead.
  6. Try to avoid using run-on sentences, because they make your writing more difficult to understand and demonstrate that what you're writing is not well-organized and make you less likely to be taken seriously and besides that run-on sentences, even, when, they, include, lots, of, extra, commas, are, generally, still, non-grammatical, whew!
  7. Take note when you are blind carbon-copied (BCC:'d) on a message. If you receive a message, but you don't appear on the To: or Cc: lines, then you were probably blind carbon-copied. If you reply to the other recipients of the message, you will reveal that you were a BCC: recipient. Before doing so, you should consider why the original sender might have included you on the BCC: line, rather than overtly on the CC: line. Warning: Failure to pay attention to this may be embarassing!
  9. do not write entirely in lowercase. Use appropriate punctuation, and try to remember that e-mail messages and SMS text messages are not the same thing.
  10. When using the Portable Document Format (PDF) file format, try to avoid using rasterized PDFs, and try to stick to text-selectable PDFs. They're not only more useful, but also typically smaller.
  11. I can also read messages written in reStructuredText, Markdown, and AsciiDoc. So, feel free to send me messages in those formats, as well.
  12. If you are concerned that someone unauthorized might read your message, consider encrypting it. If you need to sign something you want to send me, consider using a digital signature. You can find my PGP key and fingerprint on the contact page.

Yes, I realize that a lot of this ought to be common knowledge, and that it shouldn't be necessary to beg people to write intelligibly. Nevertheless, I see lots and lots of really poorly-written e-mail. So, I offer these tips in an effort to help those who might need it.

What you, the people, think is important to me, and I want to make sure I'm able to understand everything you have to say!