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E-mail Basics
Contributor: Steve O'Keefe

The main reason most people go on-line is e-mail. Steve O'Keefe writes an essential article for those wishing to learn the basic principles of using e-mail effectively.

The Common Link

For all the hype about the "information superhighway," the World Wide Web and real-time video, the most useful electronic communications tool is plain old e-mail. While only a fraction of the people online have access to some of the fancier tools, everyone can use e-mail. And all of the online services have made it possible to send e-mail to, and receive e-mail from, every other Internet address.

E-mail Style

E-mail is typically very informal. Perhaps due to its immediacy, it is written more in the style of a memo than a letter. Very rarely does one use a formal salutation; most e-mail is on a first-name basis.

In e-mail, brevity is rewarded, and we are talking brutally short here. Anything longer than a screenfull is suspect. If nothing else, the Internet is going to teach everyone how to communicate powerfully in a paragraph.

Several sociologists have noted how people tend to speak their mind more freely in e-mail. Curt e-mail has cost a few employees their jobs and ruined business relations for others. You've all heard about the "flame wars" that erupt online. I suggest you allow any serious flames to simmer in your mailbox overnight before sending them to your soon-to-be-scorched correspondent.

Smoking Sigs

Jill Ellsworth, author of The Internet Business Book, suggests that the most effective marketing tool for Internet newcomers is a good signature. A "signature" (or "sig") is a few lines of text automatically appended to all your outgoing e-mail. It's the equivalent of letterhead, except it appears at the bottom of your message.

Some people use bandwidth-hogging signatures complete with ASCII graphics, pithy quotes, and entire life histories. The problem with these gimmicks is that they get old in a hurry. There's only so many times I can read the same quote by George Bernard Shaw without wishing for a fresher blurb. And the problem with ASCII graphics is that how they look is determined by the font the reader is using. Your replica of the Starship Enterprise looks more like the garbage barge from Alien in the proportional font I use.

When I post to online discussion groups, my sig consists of my name and a tagline:

Internet Publicity for Book Publishers and Authors

I don't need to include my e-mail address because it's embedded in the header. I don't include my mailing address, phone or fax numbers because curious people always approach me first by e-mail. When someone requests specific information, I use a second sig that includes my street address and phone numbers.


Most e-mail programs allow you to attach files to outgoing mail. Many people don't realize, however, that unless the file is "saved as text" (with formatting codes stripped out), the recipient will get a file full of code that must be converted before it can be read. You'll save yourself a lot of time and trouble if you keep a separate folder for attachments where you store text documents for convenient use.

Useful files might include basic information about your business, flyers for the books you publish, an order form or other information on how to buy your books, electronic news releases, requests for bids from printers, etc. Your formatting will be limited -- centering, bold, italics and large point sizes are stripped-out when the document is saved as text. Try to use ALL CAPS and *asterisks* to indicate emphasis.

Address Books

Most e-mail programs allow you to create address books for easy e-mailing. A good tip is to always include the person's name in their e-mail address, as follows:

Steve O'Keefe <>

The greater-than and less-than signs tell your e-mail software that the address is between them. By having the person's name in the address field, it won't look like a wall of graffiti when you open your address book. Some address books let you assign group names so that, for example, you could address a message to "wholesalers" and it would be sent to every e-mail address in the wholesalers group. This is a very convenient feature.

As you come to rely on e-mail, you will find yourself doing more bulk mailings. If you don't want your recipients to know it's a bulk mailing, address the e-mail to yourself, and put the remaining recipients in the "BCC" field. "BCC" stands for "blind carbon copy," and it means that no one will see the names of the other recipients.

Managing E-Mail

Beware of archiving e-mail. A better strategy is to print out anything you want to save and keep it in a regular, paper file. By not deleting e-mail as you read it, you waste computer space and you waste time. Months later, when you finally decide to cleanup your archives, you'll have to open and read most of those messages to remember why you saved them.

If you must squirrel away your e-mail, save it in folders with logical names. When you transfer the mail from your in-box to a folder, change the subject line to one that will be more useful to you at a later date.

E-mail is the dominant tool in the electronic kit. It pays to buy good software and learn how to automate much of your work. Use email wisely and you'll reap the benefits of this great communications tool.

Authors background

Steve O'Keefe is a prolific writer. He has edited six newsletters and has written more than 100 articles and several books. His writing has appeared in Harper's, The Wall Street Journal, Outside, Salon, HotWired, NetWorth, Entrepreneur, Curio, and dozens of other magazines. He was one of the original writers for Internet World magazine, a columnist for the COSMEP Newsletter, and a frequent contributor to Small Press, PMA Newsletter, SPAN Connection, and other publishing periodicals.

Steve's writing has been anthologized in several books, including Publicity Basics, by the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses. His latest book is Complete Guide to Internet Publicity (John Wiley & Sons, 2002-2007), the successor to the critically acclaimed 'bestseller', Publicity on the Internet (Wiley, 1996).

Contact Information
Steve O'Keefe
Adjunct Faculty, Tulane University College
Executive Director, Patron Saint Productions, Inc.
741 Saint Philip St. #241, New Orleans, LA 70116 USA
Voice: (504) 586-9517 Fax: (504) 586-9518
Web Site:

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