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Does Your Email Look Like Junk
By: Developer Shed
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    2004-03-06

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    Does Your Email Look Like Junk?
    by Bob McElwain


    A large portion of the email I receive is junk.
    But I have to be sure before deleting. I can
    usually figure this from the preview screen
    (Eudora), but sometimes I have to open it
    to be certain.

    What surprises me is how much legitimate
    mail *looks* like junk. Over the last while, I
    tried to figure why. The obvious things are
    misuse of the ...

    - From field: Often crony names, rather than a
    straightforward email address, preceded by
    the full name of the sender.

    - Subject field: Often cute and clever, rather
    than a clear statement as to content.
    Sometimes blank.

    - Greeting: Often opens with an odd heading,
    sometimes in all caps, as is true of a lot of
    junk mail. Legitimate email opens with a
    name, as in, "Bob," Hi Bob," or even just, "Hi."

    - First Line: Lousy grammar and spelling
    errors right from the start; spammers write
    some of the worst stuff you will ever see.

    - First Line Revisited: No sense of the
    purpose of the message for several lines.
    Get to the point. Fast!

    Sure, some of this is from people new to the
    Web. But a lot of it is from people supposedly
    in business. How long they can continue with
    such poor standards is another matter.


    ==> HTML: Hot Stuff?

    Some must think so, for I'm getting a lot of it.
    The other day I got a real dandy: black text
    on a black background. Totally unreadable.
    And not all mail readers can deal with HTML,
    which means your message may never be read.

    While things may change, a good deal of
    the spam I receive is in HTML. While probably
    not fair, my first reaction to any message in
    HTML is that it's junk. If it proves not to be, then
    it's someone who is not being professional.

    While sending streaming media along with
    HTML may be the wave of the future, it is not
    appropriate today in business. Send only
    standard text in a non-proportional font such
    as Courier.

    In addition to the above, here are some
    common blunders I observed, that contribute
    to an overall sense of something I don't want
    to read. If you want to annoy people, then go
    for it. Most know where the Delete key lives,
    and use it frequently.


    ==> Send 80 Character Lines

    Many people, including myself, have their
    email reading window set at 65 characters
    as the maximum line length. So when you
    do not hit Enter at or prior to the 65th character,
    your message on my screen looks like:

    > I wanted to let you know about a neat site I ran into the
    >other day. Wow
    >it's terrific. Knowing how much you are into panda bears,
    >you've just got
    >to see this site.

    This is difficult to read. "But hey, if folks
    don't like 80 characters per line, tough
    stuff!" Fine. Everybody has a right to
    their opinion. Good luck with this one.
    Many people are almost as impatient
    when checking email as when surfing.
    If you don't make it easy for those who
    receive your message to read it, it may
    be trashed.

    "But why would anybody narrow a screen to
    65 characters?" Because a 65 character
    line is about twice as easy to read as one
    80 characters long. Most newsletters use
    this line length, some even less.


    ==> Quote Back Everything!

    Never quote an entire paragraph; your response
    can be difficult to find, particularly if the original
    message wrapped. Also be hesitant to quote
    the entire message below your reply. If I can't
    remember easily, I have to go hunting for what
    I said, which takes time. This is particularly true
    when the reply is to a message sent out three
    or four days back.

    The best approach is to quote just enough to
    be sure your reader will remember what was
    said earlier as a transition to your reply. Quote
    no more than a couple of lines, unless more is
    absolutely necessary. Also be sure to add
    blank lines to highlight the difference between
    quoted text and your reply.

    Here's how I might quote the example of
    wrapped text above. And I'll remove the
    wrapping for better readability.

    > Knowing how much you are into panda bears, you've just
    > got to see this site.

    Thanks for the heads up, Joe.

    Yes, it does take a bit more time, but to the
    extent you care about your image, it's a must.
    To the extent you care about communicating
    effectively, it's a must. Sending clean, easy to
    read email is mandatory. Your customers will
    downgrade you if you send anything less.


    ==> Everybody Loves Email

    Uh huh. It is much wiser to assume the
    person you are writing to is very, very busy.
    A second good assumption is that they
    receive several hundred emails a day.

    "But hey, that's not so." Maybe it's not.
    But make the assumptions anyway. They
    lead to better email habits.

    ----------------------------------------------------------
    Bob McElwain
    Web marketing and consulting since 1993
    For Newbie-Friendly Site Stuff, subscribe to
    "STAT News." Send any email to

    DISCLAIMER: The content provided in this article is not warranted or guaranteed by Developer Shed, Inc. The content provided is intended for entertainment and/or educational purposes in order to introduce to the reader key ideas, concepts, and/or product reviews. As such it is incumbent upon the reader to employ real-world tactics for security and implementation of best practices. We are not liable for any negative consequences that may result from implementing any information covered in our articles or tutorials. If this is a hardware review, it is not recommended to open and/or modify your hardware.

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