In life, it is the moral responsibility for the elder to teach the younger, or for the experienced to teach the inexperienced. In internet life, the same moral responsibility applies in regards to correct use of email.
One large difference is that, in internet life, it is very often the younger who are the experienced. The current waves of growth in internet usage, the new users, are largely from the older generations.
Accordingly, it becomes the responsibility of the experienced users to educate and train newer users in the correct usage of email. One simple way of imparting this education to lesser experienced internet users is to politely refer them to this article, either on the page you are currently reading or at http://BestPrac.Org/articles/netiquette.htm
The internet life carries it's own versions of courtesy, privacy and security issues that all users need to know. Hence a new word has entered the vocabulary - Netiquette. (Internet etiquette. )
- In internet and email culture, ALL CAPITALS IS AKIN TO SHOUTING and is universally seen as rude and impolite.
- New email users often forget to include a brief “Subject" line on their emails, or do not understand the importance of it. Ordinary postal service “snail-mail" does not ordinarily require a heading about the contents of the letter on the outside of the envelope - though most posted periodicals and many commercial accounts nowadays do identify the contents or level of importance on the outside of the envelope. Email, however, operates very differently from snail-mail. Never omit a subject line, and keep your subject line brief and relevant. Without a subject line, your email will probably be seen as yet another junk email and be deleted unread by the intended recipient. More commonly, it may not even reach the recipient at all. Many ISPs filter suspicious looking emails and delete them without delivery. A blank subject line to an email filter is like waving a red rag in front of a bull.
- Never send emails to people you do not know without their express permission. Only send email to people who you know, or who have clearly indicated that they want to receive correspondence from you. Violation of this act of Netiquette can land you in all sorts of trouble. You will be labelled as a spammer. In some states or countries, you risk being charged with criminal or cival violations of the law for sending unsolicited email. Even in countries or states where there is no specific law prohibiting unsolicited email, it is regarded as bad manners and offensive. If you check with your ISP, you will almost always find that they reserve the right to terminate your internet connection if they receive complaints about you for sending unsolicited email.
- Even when sending email to people that you do know, only send them what they are likely to want. Not everyone you know wants jokes or other “chain email" forwarded to them. Not everyone shares your sense of humour or has the time while connected at work to be reading frivolous emails. If you like forwarding jokes or other “chain emails" to your friends, check with them first to be sure they are happy to receive them.
- Think before you type. Type, then think again. Unlike face-to-face or voice-to-voice communications, the easily and quickly typed email can all too easily be a source for expressing your feelings in the bluntest of ways. Similarly, the hastily written word may lack feelings and not express the emotions that can be sensed with eye contact or voice modulation in other forms of communications. It is too easy to forget that there is a human at the other end - not just a computer. You can very easily damage your own reputation and destroy friendships with thoughtless emails. Once an email is sent, you cannot retrieve it. The damage is done.
While to the experienced user all of the above is simply common sense, as the old saying goes “Common sense is not really all that common. " These basics are not innate within the human sole. Newcomers need to be taught.
When to use To:, CC: or BCC:
Another vital area of appropriate email usage goes beyond merely being courteous in your communications - the correct use of To: or CC: or BCC when adding recipients to the email your are sending.
All popular email software and all web-email accounts give you a choice of these three different ways to add a recipient for your email. (Sometimes you might need to check your software menu and enable BCC as a visible option. It is not a visible option by default in all email software, unfortunately. ) Your choice has vital privacy and security implications, so it is important to know which to use and when. While “To:" is self explanatory, a brief definition and history of CC: and BCC: will help you understand their correct usage.
CC: is a term from old fashioned typists. It stands for “Carbon Copy". In days of old, prior to photocopiers or word processors with laser printers, copies of letters were made by inserting two sheets of typing with a sheet of carbon paper in between into the typewriter. When a secretary typed a letter that was meant for one person though another person (other other people) was to receive a copy, and the first person was to be informed that a copy was being sent to another person, the typist would add a line under the signature at the end of the letter, along the lines of:
CC: Joe Bloggs.
This convention alerted to direct recipient to the fact that the letter had also been sent to other specific people.
If you did not want the direct recipient to know that copies were sent to other people, you'd simply not include a CC: line at the end of the letter.
BCC: stands for “Blind Carbon Copy". It is the electronic equivalent of sending a letter to multiple people without a CC: line. It means that people receive the email without any trace of who else is also receiving it being revealed.
Given those definitions, there are simple guidelines as to when you should use To:, CC: or BCC: in the emails that you send:
- If your email is being sent to just one person or email address, place it in the “To:" section.
- If your email is being sent to more than one recipient and all the recipients truly need to know who else is receiving it, put all the addresses in the CC: section.
- If your email is being sent to more than one recipient but there is no urgent reason for all the recipients to know the names and email addresses of everyone else to whom it is being sent, put all the addresses in the BCC: section.
(Some email software requires at least one address to be placed in the To: section. If yours insists on this when you are trying to send a CC or BCC email, put your own email address in the To: section. )
Understanding these basic principles of email usage has many benefits. It preserves the privacy of your contacts. It prevents lists of names and email addresses being sent to strangers when someone you send an email then forwards it to others. It helps to prevent viruses, worms and trojans being accidentally spread by your friends with out-of-date antivirus programs.
Most of all, it shows the people with whom you communicate that you are sensible and responsible in your online behaviour. It shows that you take their privacy and security seriously. It builds trust in your communications.
Trevor Johnson is Chairman of the internationally active Anti Spam organization BestPrac. Org (http://www.BestPrac.Org ) which promotes internet industry standards of Best Practice for the Prevention and Elimination of Email Spam.