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ramblings on email formalization

published: 07-02-2010 / updated: 07-02-2010
posted in: development, rants, tips
by Daniel Molina Wegener

Netiquette (RFC1855) is a set of standard rules on writing electronic mail. Many of those conventions appears to be lost in time, and bad practices on writing emails are more popular around the Internet. I agree with those rules, but I think that some additional stuff can be used to get more organized electronic mail. Here are some rules, some of them extracted from the netiquette used on mailing lists and Usenet.

the subject matters

Sure, a good subject can be used to index properly your emails. For example try to use some kind of convention, do not throw the subject as a previously known conversation. For many years I’ve been using my own convention on electronic mail subjects for my projects. Generally I use the form: "Client, Project, Real Subject" or "Project, Real Subject". So you can easily find your messages related to each project just by looking on the subject. The proper subject is a good introduction to the email that you will write or read.

the format matters

Plain text (text/plain), wrapped on column 76 or 64 — it depends on your taste — with well formed paragraphs and using the proper mime encoding for localization — on Usenet and some mailing lists is useful to use US-ASCII as encoding. Many companies are using HTML formatted mail with those gif images as company logos attached, and sometimes a huge disclaimer as email footer, and many replying on top of the previous message. Well, your fancy looks ugly here. I use Kontact, hence I use Kmail and a great feature of Kmail is the fact that it do not opens HTML formatted mails immediately, it regards my preference and ask me if I want to open it. Do you remember the I love you virus which was spreading through electronic mail?. Fancy colors and pictures leave your mail looking as SPAM, overfilled with propaganda, and those huge disclaimers for me are a disrespect to me, since it is like to send a real mail, and mail service opens the envelope and attach another document into it.

A possible solution is to standardize the proper E-Mail header for those bring that information without modifying the content of the original message:

  • X-Company-Logo, should contain an URL to the company logo. I hope that it should reside under HTTPS protocol.
  • X-Disclaimer, should contain an URL to the company disclaimer of the electronic mail.
  • X-Sender-Identity, should contain an URL to the sender contact information, possibly a vCard or a plain text signature.

Sending that information — since most SMTP email is authenticated — can be easyly inserted on the electronic mail and it will become a part of the envelope, not the original message.

labeling for indexing

Many mail clients are using labels to create additional indexes on the electronic mail, but seems that is not standardized. Here an additional mail header should be useful — I hope that most companies will agree. X-Labels should be used to add labels to the electronic mail, it can be delimited with the ;; string. So, it will become standardized for most clients, including on sending mail, so the mail client can receive them and ask the user if he wants to add the label.


Read some mailing lists or Usenet newsgroups to get introduced on how to write and read electronic mail. Read the RFC 1855 to get the real rules on formal electronic mail. Stop sending that fancy electronic mail, it has no sense, your company will not be more respected by sending those mails, for many people it has the opposed effect.

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