Preventing Digital Divides in Email


What's here

Quoting and editing

When quoting another person, edit out whatever isn't directly applicable to your reply. Don't let your mailing or Usenet* software automatically quote the entire body of messages you are replying to when it's not necessary. Take the time to edit any quotations down to the minimum necessary to provide context for your reply. Nobody likes reading a long message in quotes for the third or fourth time, only to be followed by a one line response: "Yeah, me too."

- Arlene Rinaldi, The Net: User Guidelines and Netiquette, Electronic Communications

* Usenet is the network of newsgroups§ which are available on the Internet

§ Newsgroups are public discussion areas. Have a squiz at Google Groups


Be efficient with other people's time and bandwidth. The amount of traffic on the Internet affects response time. Internet users need to be aware of the load their information places on the system. Users should avoid congesting the system with unnecessary or repetitive information. This means keeping email messages as brief as possible ... when replying to an email message do not include the original text unless you need to for clarity, and trim it as much as possible.

- University of Queensland, Communicating on the Internet, Email module, Netiquette section


Please consider that your text just might be read by a visually impaired ("blind") person. ...removal of unnecessary text can speed up their reading a *lot*. So, for them - edit your text. Thank you!

- Sven Guckes, HOWTO Edit Messages - Message Editing and Quoting Guide (with Examples)


White space

Quoting a relevant bit of your correspondent's message, followed by white space, followed by your comment, is absolutely standard in electronic mail. The email software marks the quotes automatically (usually with right angle brackets > showing the level of the quote), the writer adds some white space for readability, and this is how it looks:

- Val

>What you wrote
>>My reply

Your reply to that


Top Posting

A: Because it is hard to read.
Q: Why is top-posting annoying?

- Lots42 bomb vice president, Re: Too Damn Funny, 20-02-2003 15:56:20 PST, alt.callahans (newsgroup)

Top-posting: Writing the message above the original text, when one replies to an email or a post in a newsgroup.

Top-posting inevitably leads to long posts, because most top-posters leave the original message intact. All these long posts not only clutter up discussions, but they also clutter up the server space.

- Anton Smit and H.W. de Haan, Why is Bottom-posting better than Top-posting

Some reactions to top posting

I have seen it called 'Jeopardy style' ('first I give the answers, then you ask the questions'), and 'upside-down style' (implying that you probably read books upside-down too...), and 'tofu' ('text over followup under'), and other not-so-friendly names.

- Veronica Karlsson, Re: Table spacing probs with Styles, 08-12-2000 21:03:17 PST, comp.infosystems.www.authoring.html (newsgroup)

Top-posting is akin to walking down any High Street on Saturday wearing wellingtons and a bright pink tutu with 'I Know Little and Care Less' tattooed on your forehead and a sign saying 'Kick Me' taped to your back.

- Sarah [swroot], Re: Blue Mountain Coffee, 30-01-2001 04:53:11 PST, (newsgroup)

Useful explanations and illustrations

Mail & News or What do you mean "my reply is upside-down"?



Yeah, me too!

>I think the
>reason there are
>problems with X
>is [carefully
>reasoned argument
>follows, quoted
>in full, usually
>several screens
>that you've
>already read, but
>you scroll down
>anyway in case
>there's a reason
>for them to be



DON'T TYPE IN ALL CAPS. This is perceived as shouting.

- Mary Houten-Kemp, Everything E-Mail, quoted on a site called E-Mail Tips which is no longer online

Capitalize words only to highlight an important point or to distinguish a title or heading. Capitalizing whole words that are not titles is generally termed as SHOUTING!

*Asterisks* surrounding a word can be used to make a stronger point.

- Arlene Rinaldi, The Net: User Guidelines and Netiquette, Electronic Communications


Using HTML in email

Email began as a text-only medium, designed so anybody with a computer and connection to a network -- regardless of the system's power, operating system or email client -- would be able to communicate with anybody else on the planet. Most email software gives the user the ability to encode the text -- usually using HTML -- with bold, underline, italics, etc.

The problem is that not everybody uses software that recognizes fancy formatting -- nor do they necessarily want to use it. You send:

I just now finished Dion Fortune's book, The Sea Priestess and I loved it!

Your recipient can get something that looks more like:

I <i>just now</i> finished Dion Fortune's book, <u>The Sea Priestess</u> and I <b>loved</b> it!

If you are unsure of your recipient's email capabilities (or preferences) and/or you want to maintain email purity, utilize the well-understood methods for expressing emphasis and intonation without all that fancy formatting:

I *just now* finished Dion Fortune's book, _The Sea Priestess_ and I >*loved*< it! ! !

- The Essayist, The Unquiet Collective, Spam Is Not the Worst of It: Email etiquette and related gripes

Sending messages that are unintelligible to a significant portion of your intended audience is foolish.

In addition, think about mailing lists...

... Messages with various forms of rich text encodings often ruin the utility of digested mailing lists. Some of the less than robust list servers have actually be[en] crashed by those sorts of messages.

-, Re: mailing html email, 19-03-99, comp.mail.misc (newsgroup)

Observing S24 of the Australian Disability Discrimination Act 1992

An example of an accessibility problem which could arise on a public mailing list which permits the use of HTML email:

While most blind people use standard email clients, which handle HTML fine, the normal problems with HTML on the web would still be an issue: lack of structural markup, text alternatives for non-text elements, and so on. HTML email containing nothing but plain text might meet accessibility requirements, but if it contained images, tables, etc, the chances are that it would not be properly marked up for accessibility.

- Based on personal communication on 22 May 2003 with usability expert Dey Alexander -

Commentary 1

Would you kindly turn off html in email. Html is for web pages. Plain text is for messages. Thank you for your panicked compliance.

- Seen on

Commentary 2

WARNING: mail to this address will be auto-bounced if:

(a) more than 10% original content appears before first quoted matter,

(b) quoted material exceeds 75% of total message content, and/or

(c) HTML is used to format text and/or embed non-ASCII items.

- Seen on Usenet


Attaching disclaimers

Email disclaimers add useless bulk to messages, are often self-contradictory, and serve no purpose. Here is a page with detailed discussion of the problems with email disclaimers:

Stupid Email Disclaimers
NB: this is a very funny page!

- Addition suggested by Ben Finney (email, 03 July 2003).


Page created 28 January 2002; last updated 26 October 2005