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Durham University

Computing and Information Services

Good practice with respect to electronic mail

A few guidelines for composing messages

Once you get into the habit of using email, you will find that sending, replying to and forwarding messages is very easy. It is also easy for quickly composed, and perhaps ill-considered, messages sent to people you might not know very well to be misunderstood. It is as well to bear in mind the following guidelines:

  • Be clear, brief and logical. A well-organised, to-the-point message is more inviting to the overwhelmed reader than five screens full of text that has not been divided up into paragraphs. It is best to stick to one topic per message, and to use a descriptive title in the Subject box.
  • Never forget that the person on the other end is human. Never send anything when you are angry or upset. If you are upset at something or someone, wait until you have had a chance to calm down and think about it.
  • Be careful about what you say about others. Think twice before you post personal information about yourself or others.
  • Be careful with humour and sarcasm. It is easy to misinterpret a message without the voice inflections and body language of face-to-face communication. If you are in doubt about a message that you have received, check back. Was that silly message a joke, or did you misunderstand it?

Junk mail and chain letters

Most people are annoyed by the great amounts of junk mail that we receive through the post. Increasingly, these days email is being used to send out junk mail. Just delete these messages, and

  • Do not, yourself, use email to do mailshots to a large number of people.
  • Don't get involved with chain letters: once again, just delete any chain letters that you receive.

Check your Junk Email folder

Many mail servers scan incoming mail and attempt to identify junk mail. This may be placed in the users 'Junk Email' folder. Inevitably on occasions some genuine mail may be incorrectly identified as 'junk' and placed in your Junk Email folder. It is recommended you check your Junk Email folder and if you find email that has been incorrectly treated you can mark the sender as 'safe' so future emails from that sender will arrive in your inbox.

Privacy and fabrication

Do not assume that messages sent by email are private. Messages will not normally be seen by other people, but email is not suitable for confidential information. You should think of email as a postcard, and not as a sealed letter.

You should also be aware that it is possible for people to send messages in other people's names. It contravenes the University regulations for you to do this. However, if you receive a message from someone, and the message seems strange or out of character, maybe it is not really from that person. If you suspect that this has happened, phone or email them to check that they really did send the message. If you receive a bogus message, report the incident to the IT Service Desk.