Emailing: MJR's email tips

Please note that my email comments are not on behalf of anyone else, unless I specifically say so. My Opinion Only, otherwise. You might think that's obvious, but ... !

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I prefer to be contacted by email. The rest of this page is written partly from necessity (too much email!) and partly from arrogance. I am always happy to hear more about new ways to manage emails. If you are sure you want to email me and only me, skip ahead to find info on my email addresses.

  1. Mailing lists
  2. Languages/Lingvoj/Langues/Sprache/Taal
  3. Email addresses
  4. Good subject line
  5. Good quoting
  6. Say what you mean
  7. Say what you want
  8. Attachments
  9. If you are going to send me a warning about a telephone number, read this first...

Mailing lists

If you have an email that is for me personally, then I will be delighted to receive it.

For some topics, you may find that you usually get a faster reply from the mailing lists of these groups:

There are clever people on these email lists. Often, after seeing their replies, I feel that I can't add anything useful, so I don't. I do read these lists, but I may miss some questions. If no-one answers your question (after a reasonable time) or you really can't wait, you can send it to me directly, mentioning any lists already tried without answer.

Please try to make your emails easy to use. It may take you 10 seconds or so more, but it will save everyone else twice that. If you are offering or asking for something (even just an opinion), please act with kindness if you want kindness back. If you don't know what I mean, try a guide to mailing list etiquette or read about good email later on this page.

You can make it easier to send good email to a mailing list by using a good email program that supports email lists. Languages/Lingvoj/Langues/Sprache/Taal

Please write to me in English plain text (not quoted-printable or base64). Bonvolu skribi al mi esperante, tekste (ne quoted-printable aŭ base64). Ecrivez en français, en texte pur (pas en quoted-printable ou base64), s'il vous plaît. Bitte schreiben Sie auf Deutsch (reiner Text und nicht quoted- printable oder base64). Stuur platte tekst (geen quoted-printable of base64) a.u.b.

Role-based email addresses

I use different addresses for different tasks. Most published addresses end up in one mailbox. Most unpublished addresses end up in another. I deal with the unpublished mailbox more frequently and carefully. If you know an unpublished address, use it if it's relevant.

Do not use a "task address" for irrelevant emails. For example, if it's not for my job, please don't send it to my work unless it's the only way. (You wouldn't do it with a parcel, would you?) The occasional slip is fine, but do it too often and I'll filter emails from you.

Pick one address. If you crosspost to two addresses at the same time, I'm likely to miss both copies, as most crossposts are filed as bulk mail. Do not send me two copies of something - would you do that with a printed letter? If I don't answer soon, then maybe try a different address.

Do not publish an unpublished address. If you have my unpublished address, guard it well. The fewer people that have that address, the easier it is for you to contact me. If you publish it, I'll move it to the "published addresses" mailbox and you've lost your easy contact. In extreme cases, I'll filter you on the mailhost or delete the address.

If you don't have any address, try my personal web contact form or if it's about my work for the co-op, use their contact form.

If all else fails, mjr at will get my attention if your email is good. So, what do I think of as good email?

Good subject

Good email has a good subject line. The subject line is your way to promote your message as one I should read first.

Make it a short (max 10 words?) summary of what the email is about. Sometimes I look at "(no subject)" but not often if I don't know the sender's name. Stuff that looks like spam or viruses also gets mostly left unopened. Stuff with words like "URGENT" on the subject line often gets left until last, just to spite them - if it's that urgent, why are you using email to a published address? If you're using a published address, be aware that over half of the email there is usually deleted.

I know your email is important, but if I can't tell that it's important from the subject, I may delete it by mistake. So, if you don't hear back after a while, try resending with "RESEND" in the subject.

Good quoting

Now, if I've opened your email, you have another screenful of email to convince me to read the whole message. A good email will quote just enough context (2 or 3 lines is usually enough) and then start the reply. If it's a long reply, it should open with a short summary, if possible. Get the reader's attention! Please don't waste the first screen just by filling it with a quote of someone else's message. Your message is more important.

Over-quoting is especially common on certain email lists, where some people even fail to quote anything before their reply and leave the whole message below. This has two problems: I probably already got the quoted message, which wastes my data transfer and storage; and your reply probably made no sense out of context.

Sufferers of top-post-whole-quote (TPWQ) syndrome often claim that it's easier to reply like that and we can refer to the text below to get the context. My response is that it's easier to delete the message than play yo-yo with the scrollbar to find out what it meant. TPWQing is inconsiderate, making every reader waste time instead of you spending a little time to write a good email. I would like to say that people would never dare exhibit TPWQ syndrome in a printed letter, but I have seen it in memos since bad email clients became common.

Make it easy to understand what you mean

Quote extra context from the message you reply to, if appropriate. Give links or cite references, if appropriate. Generally, give as much info as you can, while keeping it reasonably concise. Try to make sure all the "who/what/where/when/how/why" you need is there. Keep to short sentences: nothing is harder to follow on the screen than seventeen conjunctions and a solid screen of text.

Make it easy to understand what you want

If you want something, come right out and say it. People read so many emails that they often don't guess at what a cryptic message means, but delete and move on to the next one. Help them to understand what you want. If you want a reply, ask a question, or finish the email with a request for replies. If you don't want a reply (on a thank-you note, for example), mention that too.


I probably don't want an attachment. Large attachments to published addresses are deleted on the server.

As soon as you attach a binary file to an email, it expands by about 30% (because of base64 encoding), making it even larger. It is better to include a URL where the file can be downloaded. If you don't have an upload space, try Open Directory - Web Applications: Storage: Free.

Don't send attachments to mailing lists unless it's usual practice (like sending a patch to a software development list) or you really have no alternative. You will be taking up a lot of space, roughly the size of the attachment multiplied by the number of people on the list. One 3Mb waste is bad. 300 times 3Mb gets painful if common.

HTML email is the worst sort of attachment. Usually there's a plain text copy too, so it's just a fat version of the message you already sent. Please send plain text only, if possible.

If you must send an attachment (for example, private data or you have nowhere to upload to), please send it in an open format. In rough order of preference, I like text as: UTF-8 text, ISO-8859-* text, html, groff, latex, ISO-based Open Document Format (ODF), Portable Document Format (PDF), GZipped PostScript. I like graphics as something common and portable, like PNG or JPG.

Ideally, ask me first if it is more than about 70k.

If you are going to send me a warning about a telephone number, read this


If you are unsure of how much a phone number will cost, look it up at before calling it.

If you want to look up a UK premium number (starting 09) for any official warnings, see

Please check warnings before sending them. If you are not a telecoms fraud agent, please report fraud warnings to your telephone company and/or the regulators (Ofcom, ICSTIS, dti). I think you or your employer may be liable for any damage caused or expense incurred if you send bad advice. If the person who sent you a warning is not a telecoms agent, please send them these links and ask them not to send you unchecked warnings in future.

I am a member of Turo Technology LLP and an agent for The Phone Coop but I make no statement on their behalf. So, please check the above advice before acting upon it.


These suggestions apply to me, too, but I don't always follow them. That doesn't make them wrong. It just shows I'm human too.


This website is copyright 2013 MJ Ray. See front page for full details.