5 February 2013

A Smorgasbord of Handy E-mail Hints

Email Threads:

You may have heard people talk about email threads. This means keeping the subject alive, usually with the same subject header. You’ll find it a great way to keep the sense of a discussion. However, there are a few simple techniques to make sure it is truly useful.

1. Delete irrelevant material from the mail you’re replying to – this saves unnecessary bulk. Many users pay by the amount of data they download, and if someone has a slow connection it’s very frustrating to have to wait while old material bounces back. It’s especially important to delete irrelevant attachments and bulky html files, or strip them down to the bare bones.

2. If the subject has changed, due to new information, change the subject header to reflect the topic.

3. Don’t reply unless it’s going to add something of value. Avoid the ping-pong of ‘thank you,’ ‘yes, thank you’,….

Drafts

Suppose you haven’t finished an email, but have to leave your machine. Always save it. If the machine has to be closed down, your message will wait patiently for you in your Draft folder. Don’t put it into ‘Send Later’ unless you’ve finished it – it will head out to the world as soon as you’re next online, finished or not. The trap, however, is that you forget the draft is there, and days later find, to your embarrassment, that the mail you thought you’d sent is quietly hibernating! I’ve done it myself a couple of times – oh dear!

Another point about saving – get into the habit of saving constantly as you type, even email. Especially if it’s an important letter you’re writing, or a long one, you’ll be very brassed off if your machine crashes and you have to go back into Ace Reporter mode again (especially if you’re not a fast typist).

Another useful facet of leaving something in the Draft folder is when you’re working on an ongoing document, and know you won’t be ready to send the finished matter for some days. For instance, as I’m working on my website, I sometimes notice things I want to tweak. I start an email to my webmaster, and let it wait in the Draft folder until I’ve got enough to justify sending him fresh instructions. In this case ‘out of sight, handy, but not out of mind’.

Viruses

This one bedevils us constantly. It’s surprising how many people don’t regularly use a good virus checker.

I’ve been in the situation where I got into a peculiar loop with a correspondent, who assured me he regularly scanned his system for viruses, and that the problems he was having must have emanated from me. I knew I was updating my Norton Antivirus every week. What we eventually discovered was that he was going Start, Programmes, Accessories, System Tools, Scandisk – in the mistaken belief that this was a virus scanner. It’s only a tool to clean up the available space on your hard drive, and nothing to do with viruses.

There are a number of good programmes out there – Norton and Vet are two of the most well-known, and there are a number of other good ones. Update every week – if you’re with a good system they’ll send you automatic reminders to update the latest list of viruses. Also, you can set your machine to update automatically (you do need to be online to run an update, of course). As soon as you’ve updated, run a full virus check on your C drive – it can run in the background while you’re doing other work.

The best way to avoid viruses – set your preferences

Do you know you can set the preferences in your Incoming Mail so that all new mail goes through your virus checker before landing in your Inbox? If you don’t know how, call your ISP (Internet Service Provider) to be talked through the right setup. I have found this invaluable in preventing viruses – you’re warned by your system, and most systems immediately offer to either clean, quarantine, or delete the offending item.

The biggest offenders in the virus stakes are unusual attachments such as .exe files, but don’t be lulled into a sense of false security – they can also come with regular attachments created in programmes like Word. Warn anyone using computers to be very cautious about attachments. Children especially, but some adults too, can’t resist the urge to ‘peek’, which is of course what a virus creator is banking on. Instead, develop a compulsion to avoid!

If the subject line looks at all dodgy, delete the whole thing – it’s probably a worm or a virus. Use your commonsense. Think, ‘Would this person send me a mail with a subject line like this?’ There have been a spate of viruses where a seemingly innocuous line such as ‘The report you asked for’, or ‘Getting back to you’ tries to seduce us in the subject line.

Hoaxes and Chain Letters

I mentioned hoaxes in Pt 3 of this series, but didn’t really touch on chain letters. Most of them are scams, trying to hook you in to wasting time. Just delete – no matter how heart-rending or wonderful they seem to be.

Notification of Receipt

Occasionally you might receive a mail which, when you open it, says that the sender has asked to be notified of your receipt. Use this with great caution – and only if it’s a very important document you really need to know about. If used with gay abandon it just compounds the amount of mail, and becomes very frustrating to the recipients.





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