Email Tips and Tricks

Why is email different?

Viruses in email

Creating a signature file

Listservs/Mailing Lists

Appending a signature file in Netscape

Newsgroups/Bulletins Boards

Appending a signature file in Explorer

Links to other email guides

Replying to an email

Storing email messages

Attaching files to email messages

What to do with email attachments

The Address Book and Mailing Lists

Another mystery solved


Why is email different? back to top

People in this day and age are used to communicating in person or by telephone, able to see the expression on someone's face or hear the tone of their voice. That kind of immediate feedback has caused us to lose the art of written communication. It is my contention that people from the 1800s (once they learned to use the technology) would be more comfortable and effective using email than we are today, because the written word was the primary means of communication for them. We in the Twentieth Century have lost the art of letter-writing, and with it the turns of phrase and verbal expression that convey the same eloquence as facial or tonal expressions.

Now, it is likely that this will be remedied soon, with the advent of desktop video cameras and better conferencing software, not to mention video phones for personal use. But these things won't be available for public consumption for one or two years at least. I'd say five years, but I, like everyone else, keep underestimating the speed with which technology moves.

Creating a signature file back to top

In order to create a signature file (the ending information for email messages), you need to open a new document in your word processor and enter some form of the following information:

Address and/or telephone number (if appropriate)
Email address (even though your email program will insert it into a message, it's polite to list it again)
(I myself also insert my family motto, which is "Often wrong, but never in doubt!")

Then save the file AS A TEXT FILE in a location where you can find it again (you should have had file management in learning Windows 95/98). You'll need to know where this file is located in order to cause your email program to append it to your messages.

Appending a signature file in Netscape back to top

  1. Open Netscape
  2. Click on Edit, then Preferences
  3. Click on the plus sign next to Mail & Groups
  4. Click on Identity
  5. Click in the space (pane) that says Signature File
  6. Click on Choose and choose your file
  7. Click OK to close Preferences window

Appending a signature file in Explorer's Outlook Express(not part of Explorer, but a separate program) back to top

  1. Open Outlook Express
  2. Click on Tools, then Options, the click the Signatures tab.
  3. Click the box next to Add Signatures..." and click the button next to File, then browse for the file, choose it, and click OK.

Replying to an email back to top

When someone sends you an email, it contains their return address. Therefore, in order to answer them, you can simply click on the "Reply" button. Every email management program has one. Both Netscape Mail Manager and Internet Explorer's Outlook Express (which I recommend over Outlook) have buttons that say Reply. Simple enough!

Using this button will cause a message box to open, showing the address of the person who sent you email and quoting the message they sent you (default option in most mail managers, but can get overly long in complex correspondence. You'll see). Please read your browser's Help to find out how to turn off the auto quote function, if you don't like having all those extra words.

Storing email messages back to top

After you've been sending and receiving email for a while, you'll have more messages that you want to keep than can be stored in the inbox. Both Netscape and Internet Explorer's Outlook Express provide a storage system for email messages using the folder metaphor. Please read your email program's help to find out more about creating folders. The folder hierarchy looks just like the display in Windows Explorer, or the directory tree on a Macintosh. If you are familiar with file management, you'll appreciate this feature.

Attaching files to email messages back to top

As mentioned before, you can attach music, text files, photographs, or anything else (anything that can be stored on a computer) to email. Both Internet Explorer and Netscape use a paper clip graphic to indicate the button you have to click to attach documents. So, you click on the paper clip, then select the file you want to attach, be it music or a picture or a word processing document. Click "Open," and the desired file is attached.

You can attach more than one file to a message, but be aware that the larger the files attached, the longer it will take to send and for your recipient to download the message. Some email services have a limit of three megabytes (or less) that they will accept, so you have to stay under that limit too. You can always compress a file using a compression program such as WinZip for Windows, but discussion of compression utilities are beyond the scope of this course.

What to do with email attachments back to top

OK, so someone's sent you an attachment in email. Now what? Well, you have two primary choices, to view it in the email message, or to save it for future reference.

First, you can look at it in the email message. In Netscape, you do that by clicking "View" "Attachments" and then select "As Links" or "Inline" which means you want to see them in the message. Second, if you choose "As Links," you can then click on the file and either open it or save it, but REMEMBER WHERE YOU PUT IT!! This is the most common mistake, saving it and losing it. Most files are automatically saved to "My Documents," so if you can't find it elsewhere, try there! Good luck!

The Address Book and Mailing Lists
back to top

Both Netscape Communicator and Internet Explorer offer address books. These are just what you think--collections of the email addresses of the people to whom you write often. In Netscape, click on Communicator in the menu bar and then Address Book on the resulting menu to make a new card or a new list, then click the appropriate button for the action you want to take.

To make a new card in Netscape:

  1. Click on New Card button.
  2. Enter the person's first name, then press Tab to go to the next field. Continue entering desired information, and when you're done click OK to save the address. Ignore any boxes you don't want to fill in, except of course name and email!

To make a new list in Netscape:

  1. Click on the New List button. (The default setting adds the list to your personal address book, which is probably where you want it to be.)
  2. Enter a list name. You do not have to fill in the next two boxes.
  3. Click in the first empty box below and enter the first address you want on the list. If you already have that address in your address book, chances are that it will be displayed automatically after you have typed in the first few characters. If that happens just press Enter. If it's not, just finish entering the email address and press enter to go to the next empty space. Enter as many addresses as you like, as it will keep giving you a new empty box. When you're through, click OK to save the list.

If the addresses of the people you're adding to your list aren't yet in your address book, the mail manager will add them. An example of a list: I have friends who share the same sense of humor I do, so when I get a funny I like I forward it to my like-minded friends all at once, because I took a minute to make up a list.

To make a new card in Explorer:

  1. Click on Tools on the menu bar, then Address Book.
  2. Click on New and then select New Contact.
  3. Fill in at least the first name, then click in the Add New pane of the Email addresses section to insert the first address. Some people, like myself, have two or more, so you may wish to add all the relevant ones. After each, click Add.
  4. Click OK to save the information when you're through.

To make a new list (group) in Explorer's Outlook Express:

  1. Click on Tools on the menu bar, then Address Book.
  2. Click on New and then select New Group
  3. Type in a name for the group.
  4. Select the first name to be included from list, or type each in separately.
  5. Click OK to save the information when you're through.

After you make an entry in the address book or make a list, when you type the first unique letters for the name of the person or list, the mail manager will fill in the rest, saving you oodles of typing. It's worth doing!

Additional tip--In Internet Explorer's Outlook Express (my favorite mail manager), you can click on an option in Tools, then the Send tab, and click the box next to the option to put people you reply to in your address book. that adds the name of anyone that you reply to into your address book. Very handy!

Viruses in email back to top

First of all, let's talk about the fact that there aren't really as many viruses out there as the media would have you think! NEVER forward a virus warning message to anyone, because it is certainly a hoax---no matter how sincere it seems, or how reputable the sender (professor, MIS professional, etc.). People who know enough to know when a virus warning is real also know enough not to send virus warnings through email. If you forward the warning, you're doing exactly what the sick individual who thought up the threat wants you to do!

If there is a real virus floating around, you will find it at in the virus hoax section, and it will also be published in reputable newspapers, as the "Trojan Horse" email virus (transmitted by spam, unwanted ads in email, which you should always throw away anyway for just this reason) was on the CNN site recently. The page referenced in the link is hosted by Symantec's Norton Antivirus, the largest and arguably the most reputable purveyor of antivirus software in the industry. If they don't know about it, it doesn't exist!

Again, please DO NOT FORWARD any email warning you about a virus!!! You'll only encourage the people who invent them!

Here's another source for information about viruses:

Listservs/Mailing Lists back to top

(Excerpted from the introduction at, which has compiled an index of over 90,000 mailing lists!)

Note: Listservs and newsgroups have nothing to do with chat rooms. Chat is live, newsgroups and listservs operate over email or an email-like delivery method.

Internet mailing lists, or listservs, aren't for ads, as some people mistakenly believe. Send any ads to the mailing lists in Liszt, and demons will come and pull out your toenails. No, Internet mailing lists are (usually) just communities of people sitting around discussing one of their favorite topics by e-mail. For example, fans of bluegrass music can join BGRASS-L, and meet other bluegrass fans, and talk about bluegrass via e-mail.

Internet mailing lists have been around since about 1975. It was the first and original type of online community, pre-dating Usenet, IRC, and the rest of the gang. The mailing list format lends itself to calm, thoughtful, literate, mature discussion, where relationships between the list members actually grow and deepen over an extended period of time. Most Internet experts feel that the mailing list format is the most civilized type of online community.

So those are discussion groups. Another common type of Internet mailing list is the newsletter or announcement format, where a single writer (the listowner or moderator) broadcasts a periodical e-mail to a willing audience (and the audience doesn't participate directly.)

You join a listserv by sending some type of SUBSCRIBE message (they'll tell you what to do), and you unsubscribe the same way. All messages are sent to a central point, where they are redistributed to the subscribers of the listserv in the form of email, as compared to a newsgroup, where people go to a specific site to read a group of messages. There are many more ramifications to listservs, but this will get you started!


Newsgroups/Bulletins Boards back to top

(Excerpted from the introduction at

WARNING! Newsgroups often have sexual or obscene content, and almost certainly profanity. Do not go to any unmoderated newsgroup unless you are prepared to encounter these things. Now... what are they?

Newsgroups or Discussion Groups, as they are sometimes called, are part of Usenet. A newsgroup is really nothing but a collection of messages dealing with a particular subject. Groups designed for the exchange of pictures usually, but not always have binaries in the group's name like: alt.binaries.autographs. There are newsgroups where they discuss sports, zebras, quilting, writing, various television shows---you name it, there's a newsgroup for it!

There are two major classes of Newsgroups: Moderated and Unmoderated.

Moderated groups

Almost exclusively, are plain text and are more formal than the far more numerous unmoderated newsgroups. In Moderated Newsgroups, one or more persons act as the moderator and control which articles become available to the public. This tends to make the group more orderly since posters know they need to get past the moderator before anyone else sees their article, so people tend to be more careful to stay within the group's guidelines.

Unmoderated groups

Are much more open. Anyone can post pretty much whatever they want and anyone who has access to the group can read the articles or see the pictures if they know how to decode them. This openness can cause flames or attacks from others in the group if they think someone posted inappropriate material, which is not always apparent from the Newsgroup's name or made clear in the group's FAQ, assuming new posters bother to read it...which most don't.

You also need to absorb the "culture" of a newsgroup if you intend to post to it, so that you don't get flamed. It's amazing how much getting a nasty message from a group of strangers hurts. I know, I stepped into a newgroup with both feet in my mouth and if email could kill, I'd be dead! Please visit to read more about beginner mistakes and newsgroup netiquette.


. Links to other email guides back to top

There are many more links which will be helpful to the email beginner, including but not limited to:

A dictionary of computer terms at

Ziff-Davis' help page at ZDNet is very helpful in general about Internet issues. They even have an online university for learning software.

And the many other WWW FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) listed at

Acknowledgements back to top

I gratefully acknowledge gleaning parts of this treatise on email from various sources on the Web. In particular, I visited,, and got some graphics from, and, among other graphics sources too numerous to list ( and quite repetitive---they all post each other's graphics, so I don't feel too guilty about not acknowledging them)

Another mystery solved... back to top

Sometimes when you're typing an email message and you select and delete one word, then start to type the new word, your new word just types over what you're replacing instead of pushing it to the right. When that happens, push the INSERT key on your keyboard to change modes from "Overstrike" to "Insert." This also works in your word processor and any other software!