Format of Emails and News

When composing electronic messages, whether email or newsgroup postings, one should follow the conventions that have evolved over time. It is especially important to quote correctly to ensure clarity of messages.

Furthermore you will find information about umlauts, signatures and fonts on this page.

HTML

In recent years it has become more and more common to use HTML in emails, too, because then you can design the text "nicer". However, HTML emails have a number of disadvantages:

  1. They are larger than plain text emails, since data is also transferred for formatting.
  2. They are not displayed correctly by every email program, so the plain text should always be sent as an alternative (which of course makes the email even larger).
  3. Since so-called "active content" (Java, JavaScript, ActiveX, …) can also be included in HTML, malicious code can also be transmitted with it, which is why the display of HTML content is also prevented or blocked on the server on many clients that are HTML-capable in and of themselves.
  4. Links in text are only clickable if they are really saved as links (i. e. with link address and link text), but in plain text emails all good email programs recognize links either by www. or http:// or https:// at the beginning.
  5. Inline images in HTML emails are not displayed/sent along when they are displayed or forwarded as plain text emails, they have to be saved separately and sent as attachments, so if you send HTML emails with inline images, you should always send them as attachments so that they are received correctly, which of course makes the emails really big.

In addition, even with plain text messages you have the possibility to design the emails with Markdown formats, but this is not interpreted correctly by all email programs, but many users themselves know that * stands for bold and / for slanted font.

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Other formats (doc, pdf, …)

… should be used even less than HTML, because they too actually have only disadvantages:

  • More data has to be transferred.
  • The virus filters have more to do.
  • Not more information is transferred.
  • A special reader (which can have vulnerabilities that can be exploited for attacks) is needed to display the information.

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Umlauts and other special characters

Modern email programs offer the possibility to use various special characters (such as German umlauts) in emails (and postings in Usenet).
Since email was created at a time when practically only one character set was used (US-ASCII) and this could be encoded with 7 bits, email is still strongly anchored in this 7-bit world today.

However, other character sets (e. g. ISO-8859-1) are encoded with at least 8 bits and if you now use characters that exceed the first 128 (these generally match US-ASCII), problems may occur that depend on several factors over which you as the sender have no control (you do not know whether each node on the path from the sender to the recipient can handle 8 bits or may simply cut off the leading bit; you also do not know whether the client that the recipient will use can handle an 8-bit character set).

The only fairly safe working option is to stay in the 7-bit world - there are 3 methods for this:

  1. "quoted-printable MIME":
    Special characters are encoded by special 7-bit strings, an ü is then sent e. g. in the ISO-8859-1 character set as =FC
  2. HTML:
    An ü is then sent as ü and displayed as ü by email programs that understand HTML. (For concerns about HTML, see above).
  3. 7-bit ASCII:
    Instead of ü write e. g. ue (commonly used) or also "u (TeX style).

Even the first two suggested options have their limitations:

  • For example, not every program supports MIME or HTML.
  • The selected character set may not exist in the recipient's system.
  • The settings usually do not affect the header - e.g. real name, subject - but only the body.
Thus, the only "safe" way (besides sending texts in images) is to use (US) ASCII - good email clients therefore also send HTML messages automatically in ASCII - but this increases the amount of data transferred.

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Smileys

In Outlook, character strings like :-) are not only replaced in the display by characters from the Wingding character set, but also sent in this way: these characters then only appear correctly in Outlook (), in other programs this character set is generally not available,‚ÄČthere e. g. a "J" appears instead of the laughing smileys - but there are several ways to prevent this.

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Signature

The use of an email "signature" is part of netiquette, it should at least contain the contact details of the sender (i. e. e. g. full name, phone number and postal address), please also refer to the corporate wording guide of TU Graz.

Signatures are correctly separated with "-- " (i. e. hyphenhyphenspace) and not only with "--" or otherwise somehow (or not at all), then a (good) email client can recognize this and then omits it automatically in a reply (correctly marked with Re: and not with AW:) - below "-- " should therefore only be the signature! (Attention with top posts (Jeopardy-style quoting)!)

Signatures in news postings should be maximum 4 lines long.

A digital signature is a cryptographic method to ensure the origin, authenticity and integrity of the signed message.

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Font for plain text messages

To see the beautiful (?) ASCII drawings e. g. in the signatures (see above) of various authors or to be able to better estimate the line length (max. approx. 70 characters/line) (so that the quoting gets not broken) or to be able to display e. g. tables, you should always set a non-proportional font (e. g. Courier) for plain text messages.

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Reply - Re: or AW:?

An email program should not make the subject of the email unreadable or change it strongly, therefore good email programs write only one Re: (originally does not stand for "Reply" but probably for "Response") in front of the subject even if you reply several times.
Outlook (Express), however, uses in the German version a well-meant but unfortunately wrong AW: instead and this results in subject lines like this
Re: AW: AW: AW: AW: Re: Whatever.
You can (and should!) therefore also teach these "email programs" to better use Re: instead of AW: (German version of Outlook Express and Outlook).
Also Novell's GroupWise unfortunately does not use Re: but Antw: in the German version - here you have to set the client language to English via startup parameters.

Thunderbird - which actually does it correctly - can be configured to handle AW correctly as well.

And while we're on the subject of replying - quoting correctly is not difficult either, but is still often done incorrectly:

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Proper citation in replies

You should stop replying above the full quote (called "top posting" or "Jeopardy-style quoting" in Internet jargon) in your email program right away: this is a bad habit that marks you as a beginner and makes reading more difficult in some cases:
The transferred data volume increases with each answer, the readability decreases extremely - articles are generally read from top to bottom, but here the chronological sequence is exactly the other way around: newer texts are above older texts, answers not at the questions, but somewhere further up in the text. The only advantage (the whole correspodence is also readable in the last mail) should also be omitted in modern email programs, which are able to handle mailthreads (mails belonging together are displayed coherently), I can make the whole email traffic accessible to other users by folder sharing.

The quoted text should be marked by a greater-than sign (">"), this is defined in technical (RFC 1849 Son-of-RFC 1036, RFC 3676, …) as well as in social rules (Netiquette).

Outlook users should definitely use the QuoteFix software.

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Multiple punctuation

The multiple use of punctuation marks (!!!) does not make a message more readable either, quite the opposite!

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