Message writing advice

Here are described considerations when composing messages for others to read, in order to make efficient use of the recipient's time and to enhance communication.  This advice mostly applies to messages communicated by computer, via email, list, or board.  The formatting of, and the information in, a message affects how readable, useful, and informative it is.  As the number of recipients increases, the more this advice is relevant.  Not described here is the etiquette that should be followed in order to be nice to people.


Keep the subject of messages posted to a list related to the list's purpose.  If your email is broader in subject, and a more appropriate list exists, consider using it instead.  For example, often there will be, for a given topic, general and local lists.  If your post is not specific to the list's area, use a more general list.  Same considerations should be made when your post is relevant to a more specific list.

When replying to a message to show appreciation for it, or to just acknowledge receipt, consider sending it to only the author of the original message, and not to the whole list.

Reconsider including signature lines specified by you and having advertisements inserted by your email service provider.

If you are replying to a message to which your message is not related to it, change the subject line.


The more recipients, the more you should consider privacy.

Before including personal information, consider who has access to your message.  Hesitate before including phone numbers, home addresses, and email addresses.

An email address in a web page will receive spam.

With messages sent to many people, email addresses in the "To" and "CC" fields are more susceptible to receiving spam and viruses by email.


Format messages for readability and accessibility.

Don't force split your long lines into multiple lines.  The maximum amount of text on each line should be determined by the reader, not predetermined by the composer of the message.

If replying to a recent message that is in an easily accessible archive, then don't include in your message the entire original message.  If the original message is on a web page, provide a link to it.

Before more than a sentence not by you, mention the material is not yours, such as by putting "FW" or "Fwd" in the subject, or by introducing the text as such.  If the information is available on the web, include a link to it.  Text is usually more readable on a web page than in an email message.

Hesitate sending messages not in plain text format unless all recipients prefer formatted text.  More people will more easily be able to read your message if they are text than if they are HTML.

Hesitate sending attachments that require special software to read, such as Adobe's PDF and Microsoft's Word documents, which tend to be larger and not as accessible.

Consider putting in a web page on the Internet any information that will be useful for later reference or by the public.  For example, information about a future event might be useful after your email is read and deleted.


Proof read your message.  Is your message as clear as it could be?  Will other people interpret your words the way you intended?  Check spellings and grammar.

Can your convey more, with fewer words?

When asking a question, state where you already researched for an answer, so people don't repeat your efforts.

Most information is wrong or is insufficient to draw the conclusions often made from it. Search for arguments against it before forwarding other people's information.  Provide links to that information.

Answer questions that will likely be asked, and provide research that will likely be done, when reading your message.  If your email is sent to multiple people, that will avoid redundant research and replies.

Credit the source or inspiration of your message content.

Consider a bigger picture before sending isolated bits of information.

Realize there are many arguments for and against everything.  One of those arguments is rarely enough to make conclusions about the idea.  Don't argue a statement by providing reasons only for the same or different conclusion; of course they exist.  Rather, argue only the merits of the statement itself.  Or, embark on the difficult and lengthy task of providing relations among information.

To avoid people receiving two identical messages, don't address an email to both a list and also to anyone on that list who will receive a copy anyway, such as the sender of a previous list email to which you are replying.

More information elsewhere

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