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SOB: Simulations Of Brilliance

January 19, 2006

reply intelligently to email

Tags: humor, email, stupidity, etiquette, intelligence, instruction, top-posting

This is a brief bit of instruction in how to reply intelligently to email. It is inspired by Tech Juggler's somewhat humorous How to reply to an email post, in which he carefully addresses how one can reply to an email using the Yahoo! webmail interface. While I don't tend to have the problem he has, with people simply not replying (maybe I'm just more likable), but I do occasionally see problems with people replying stupidly. That being the case, I have decided to give you guys some instruction so you won't come off as a complete idjit the next time you reply to an email. Here are ten things to do to reply intelligently to email:

1. Don't top-post. Yes, it's true, these days most mail clients for Windows and most webmail service interfaces place your cursor at the top of the quoted text to which you're going to reply, but it is worth your while to go the extra step of clicking your little mouse pointer at the bottom of the message to add text in the correct place. The reason you shouldn't top-post is simple: top-posting destroys logical flow of conversation. It makes sense, at times, to add some kind of editorial note at the top of the email about what you're going to be saying, but for the actual reply text it makes far more sense to add it after what the other person said. It is acceptable at times to do inline replies, where you break up the other person's text into sections with replies to each of them, but in this case it becomes even more critical for you to post your replies to each of these sections after what was previously said, rather than before. There are actually mailing lists and newsgroups out there where top-posting can get you banned: it is that annoying. This rule ties in with the next, about cropping text. For a demonstration of this principle in action, see this example:
A: It reverses the normal flow of conversation.
Q: What's wrong with top-posting?
A: Top-posting.
Q: What's the biggest scourge on plain text email discussions?

2. Crop text of messages to which you're replying. Only keep quoted text from a previous email in your reply if it is relevant. Nobody likes to reread, for the sixteenth time, the thirty paragraphs of preceding conversation when it doesn't even pertain to what you're saying in your reply (or even to have to scroll past it for the sixteenth time). Save bandwidth, annoyance, time, and reasons for people to decide you're an aggravating nimrod. This is especially important when your reply consists of something like "I agree."

3. Send plain text emails only, unless you absolutely positively must send an email with other content � especially on mailing lists. People who use text-based email clients, like me, don't like getting spaghetti HTML code in their inboxes. Also, you look less like a spammer if you don't send HTML emails when you don't have to. Furthermore, you're less likely to spread email viruses and the like if you only send text-based emails (and you're less likely to get infected by them if you view all emails as plain text without markup interpretation). When all you need to do is get a collection of words from point A to point B, there's little point in cluttering it up with a bunch of nasty markup, and there are a lot of reasons to avoid it. I've heard people complain about techies giving them guff about things like HTML emails and other utterly gratuitous misuses of misfeatures, but it strikes me as odd that people never pause to consider that, being techies, they probably know something you don't.

4. When responding to email, and you get angry with what has been said, take a moment to make sure you aren't misinterpreting what the other person said. Read the email a second, and maybe third, time: while doing so, do your level best to interpret the phrasing in a positive, rather than negative, manner. Don't make an ass of yourself by jumping to conclusions that simply aren't accurate. Tone doesn't carry as well online as in person, usually, so it makes sense to be more sure of your interpretation before flying off the handle at someone over some perceived insult. It is permissible, and even smart, to ask if someone means to be insulting most of the time, in case you aren't sure. It is just downright stupid to always assume the worst without confirmation.

5. When asking for help, be polite, gracious, and humble. Humility isn't always necessary, of course, but it serves as a good substitute for actually knowing the limitations of your own knowledge, and most people aren't so good at recognizing those limitations. So: be humble. Too often, I see someone new to a mailing list relating to some technical matter show up and start complaining about what's wrong with such-and-such, based on his experience with something almost unrelated, because this new thing doesn't act the way he expects it to from that unrelated experience. This happens with people moving to Ruby from Python or Java, people moving to Linux from Windows, and so on. Realize you're in new territory, and don't (yet) know everything. Act accordingly. Realize that others are not likely to respond positively to you if you don't take this very reasonable approach. You should also be polite, gracious, and humble even when excoriating some troll for his imbecilities, and perhaps enjoy using words the dimwitted, unregenerate nematode probably doesn't understand.

6. Use a spell-checker. You should probably use a grammar-checker, too. I don't use either, but I'm a spelling and grammar guru with the English language, so I'm the exception. You, dear readers, are likely to be the rule. I recommend finding better spelling and grammar checking applications than Microsoft Word, as I see it make mistakes all the time. You should also proofread your email by eye to ensure the spell-checker and/or grammar-checker didn't miss something, and to ensure you didn't do something stupid like accidentally attribute the "Reply to an email" post to master3bs instead of Tech Juggler (What? Me? No, I wouldn't do that!).

7. Use the reply button when actually responding to a previous email. People using threaded email clients to help keep discussions organized like threads to remain intact so they (we) have a better sense of context. This is especially important when replying where your email will be read by people who receive lots and lots of email every day (like me). Pure chronological organization of email may be fine for Grandma, but for someone like me subscribed to a dozen tech-related mailing lists, some of which get more than a hundred messages per day, threaded email is of critical importance in being able to find and understand anything going on. These tools exist to make it easier to parse large quantities of data very quickly. Try to avoid screwing it up for us.

8. Don't use the reply button when you're starting a whole new discussion. Why the heck would I want to see a thread about how to configure Gaim to use the system speaker instead of defaulting to the sound card crop up several layers deep in the middle of a thread about electronic voting machine vendors having to share their source code with state governments? I'll give you a hint: I wouldn't. That's especially true if I decide I'm done with the voting machine thread, but wanted to read the Gaim thread, and hit Ctrl+D in mutt (my email client of choice). That deletes the entire thread, including your Gaim subthread. In short, don't screw with email threading: reply when you're actually replying, start an email from scratch when you're starting a whole new conversation. Capisce?

9. There's a well-known rule in some circles, stating that email signature blocks should be no more than four lines long, at no more than 80 columns (characters) of width. There's a very good reason for this: we don't want to spend more time reading your signature than your email body text. Most people's signatures aren't nearly as clever as they think. The exception, of course, is when corporate-mandated disclaimers have to be attached to the ends of your emails, but that doesn't mean you should create your own disclaimers that are longer than four lines at 80 characters. Don't be a completely gratuitous windbag, please. Now, the four lines rule is realistically a guideline more than a rule, in most instances, but there are those who are more strict about it than others, so plan accordingly. I find that it makes sense to limit my signature blocks to no more than four lines at about 70 or 75 columns' width, in case someone's email client includes my signature in quoted text in a reply so that it ends up getting shifted to the right a little bit. The reason for the 80 columns' width, of course, is traditionally to accomodate those who are working on old-school 80 column displays. Be kind to your email-reading brethren of all screen resolutions.

10. Use hard line-wraps at less than 80 characters in your emails. I recommend something between 70 and 75 characters, to allow for padding out when others quote your text in replies. It makes it easier to read a plain text email when it is limited to about 80 columns' width than when it runs all the way to the right-hand edge of the screen or, worse yet, past it (if someone is using a mailreader that doesn't wrap lines dynamically).

Bonus. Here's your eleventh piece of advice for replying intelligently to email: Don't attach files, especially big files, if they aren't necessary, or forward crap from spammers, or otherwise send asinine content nobody wants to read. Seriously. Why would I want 47MB of attachments and spam in my inbox because you decided to forward a bunch of useless crap to me? Here's a hint: I wouldn't.

So, once you get the hang of the basic functionality of creating and sending a reply, as instructed by TR user Tech Juggler, you can start working on not coming off as a screaming imbecile when you do so. Thank you for your time, and have a nice day.

6:18 AM  | 31 comments  | Add comment

Comments on this post

This is an excellent list. I think TR should include this as a download.

 I was somewhat dismayed to learn that my email intelligence was around 90%. Unfortunately, I have been guilty of top posting. Generally, I consider myself to have good online etiquette, but I was never sure what to do about top posting. You will be glad to know that this blog has cured me of the habit.

I passed your other guidelines with flying colors, with two caveats. I use Office to spell check my messages, and my corporate email is required to be several lines long.

Again, this is a great list. I'm pleased to have inspired it.

Generally a good list but:

1. You violated your own rule "be a completely gratuitous windbag" - but it was mostly amusing.

2. I don't agree completely with your rule about top-posting. I like top-posting when I am corresponding with one or two others and I mostly always delete any parts of the thread that are not relevant. In that context, I know what the thread was and I don't want to scroll through it again.

In all other cases it is important to go with the flow (as in all matters of etiquette). If you are mailing to a group where everyone top-posts then follow that approach. If you are the first to reply or if everyone else is doing it, then by all means bottom post. But above all else, take the time to think about the way you reply.

Don't post in-line unless you are in a situation where you are pretty sure no-one else is going to reply. Following an interleaved thread is almost impossible.


"Generally a good list"

"You violated your own rule 'be a completely gratuitous windbag' - but it was mostly amusing."
Of course I did. Great fun all around.

"I don't agree completely with your rule about top-posting."
That's only because you're an uncultured heathen.

"I know what the thread was and I don't want to scroll through it again."
Then why don't you just cut out the parts you don't want to scroll through again?

"Don't post in-line unless you are in a situation where you are pretty sure no-one else is going to reply. Following an interleaved thread is almost impossible."
Odd, nobody seems to have such problems in any of the discussion threads I've ever run across and, in fact, I have never heard of anyone complaining about such a thing before, ever, while holy wars between Outlook Express indoctrinated top posters and "everyone else" bottom posters seem to crop up semi-regularly. In fact, I've seen discussions that would have been almost entirely impossible to follow without interleaved posting because responses to divergent points in the same email were made.

Maybe that's just me, though.

The more I think about it, the more I think that top-posting depends on the audience and type of conversation.  I've done it in the past when replying to something that is not going to continue for many replies, and even then I crop as needed.

I can certainly see how it would be confusing in a series of replies particularly in an email discussion list or something like that.

Personally I prefer that people replying to my mails top post. It means that the message that I want to read is at the top, and if we have all been top posting, that the most recent peice of histoy is directly below it. I really hate having to wade through all of the history before I can get to the latest reply, at the end.

I'll violate one of your rules right now by digressing slightly.  As a "guru of the English language", I'm certain you didn't choose your apotheon identity without considering its etymology.  As a former student of Greek, it reads to me like "out from God" (or, "out from a god").

apotheon.com gives the following definition:

apotheon (n): 1. one who is exalted or elevated to a state of godhood. 2. an individual element of a greater, transcendent whole.

Presumably the first definition is related to apotheosis.  The second fits better with my understanding of Greek.

So, would you care to elucidate your use of the term?

BTW, I'm a top-poster.  Sorry.

Nice list.

I'm with master3bs on top posting.  I would never do it in public forum; and it's one of the things I dislike about conventional blog formats.  But if I'm swapping messages with only one other person, why scroll to the bottom each time?

Regarding rule 2, in a work environment you may not want to selectively edit.  I only keep the last message in an exchange, so I may need the history later to CMA.

Rule 9a - If your client supports alternate signatures like Outlook does, use a shorter signature, or even no sig, for replies.

There is nothing wrong with "top posting". The sender of the email knows what he/she wrote and can just scroll down if necessary to check. On long exchanges it is obviously much quicker and better to "top post".
I believed that the most important points regarding replying to emails are:
1.� Read the email properly and reply to all the points raised.
2.� Make the reply as short as possible.
The above also applies to mail, if anyone is still writing it!

In our group a quick poll was 100% for top posting of e-mails. The most common reasons were: 1. I already read the previous text. Why read it again? 2. It faster and easier than having to scroll through the same text I just read yesterday or even a few hours ago.

Peronally, I find top posting a much better idea - at least in threaded newsgroups. It's a real PITA to have to scroll to the bottom of each message as you click through the thread. In the vast majority of cases I have just finished reading the previous message - I don't want to have to wade through it again just to figure out at what point you decided to add your 2 cents.

The rest of your list I agree with.

Good list - but in the corporate world "top posting" is the norm.  GarryAllen's post says why.  Also, 'cropping' not that common as the complete trail may need to be visible in the event of a dispute.

Obviously, one of your primary uses of email is to participate in mailing lists, hence your adversion to "top-posting." (A term that I had never heard before, probably because I don't do mailing lists.) I contend that mailing lists are not really email. They are, well...mailing lists. All they are doing is using email as a transport mechanism.

"Normal" email traffic consists people conducting a continuious stream of active communication. In "normal" emails, top-posting is the expected norm and, IMHO, bottom-posting (if that's the proper term) would be a huge irritant and should get the sender flamed by anyone and everyone. Besides, if you are in a normal email environment where top-posting is the norm, bottom-posting would be extremely confusing to the receivers and since communication is the reason for sending an email, bottom-posting should be avoided.

So there we have it. If you're participating in a mailing list, especially any draconian groups as were described in the originial post, then by all means bottom-post. Otherwise when working in the normal email world, top-post.

Sorry, but you are wrong about top posting. I've been doing e-mail in one form or another since the late '70's and have always top posted. It was the way I was taught to do it on the lists I subscribed to and by the email I recieved wheter or not from lists. If one is reading a thread, you already know, or should know, what has gone on before. It is acceptable to post quotes from the message(s) you are replying to within the body of your message and do away with the continuum which follows, so long as the quote is not out of context.

The idea of top posting being bad is a relatively new one, and I have unsubscribed from lists who insist on replies being placed at the bottom of a message. There is a reason why most e-mail editors place the cursor at the top of a reply.

There is nothing more annoying than to have to scroll through six messages to reach the new text (which may or may not be properly segregated), which may only be a few lines. Takes more time to scroll than to read the text.

 Also, yo should have mentione to use plain text. Use of HTML, or, in the case of MS products, RTF for messages is overkill and not necesary for the most part. There are sometimes, such as representing a scientific formula, whe the use of HTML may be indicated. If you must use eye-candy, even the graphic emoticons, within your text, you probably don't have anything worth saying. Also, even though the cost of storage has gone way down, such messages, even if text only, take more space to store.


I have to agree with most of the other posters here.  Top-posting is only good when the readers are typically seeing a message and replies for the first time where the text will be read in "logical" order as you put it.  In more common corporate exchanges, top-posting is preferred because we know what the previous messages were about and we only want to see the most recent reply.  The rest is included only for reference and so we only have to archive the last exchange and all replies are then included.  Top-posting may be a good rule for some things but it isn't a solid rule for every situation.  Someone who rants about top-posters in all situations isn't paying attention.

This used to be a matter of preference/style until Outlook/Outlook Express became the dominant mail client.  Now users are nearly forced to top post.  The way it does quoting and indenting makes it difficult for people unused to the proper ways to even see how bad their reply is going to look.  Also, with the cost of sending an email being virtually $0.00 per byte, it is not a concern (or even a thought) how large the email is.  Send 600 lines of quoted text, including quoted sigs, with a 12 meg WMV file attachment. No problem at all.

john alley said:
Don't post in-line unless you are in a situation where you are pretty sure no-one else is going to reply. Following an interleaved thread is almost impossible.

$DEITY preserve us!  Impossible for a raccoon, maybe.  No, even they have the brain capacity to read an email conversation the proper and most coherent way it can be posted.

I can't understand it.  First people claim that top posting makes it easier to follow a conversation, an idea whose idiocy has only become even more pronounced over time, now a statement like this.  Our schools much have stopped teaching common sense and basic intellectual understanding.  No wonder the US sucks at anything requiring more than two braincells.

If this is the current quality of TR membership then it's questionable whether there's any viable reason to remain a member.

There is obviously a lot of controvery on top posting.  It has become the norm because this is how every e-mail tool out there works.  I think if our tools better accomodated the natural flow of a conversation we wouldn't even be having this discussion.

80% of users are tech-inept.  If top posting was as so hard to read, as you suggest, I doubt people would have continued accepting and doing it.

More importantly however, we live in an age of SmartPhones & PDAs, I'll be damned if I'm going to scroll through pages of useless information to get to the simply reply I wanted.  I am a top-poster and will continue to be.


Who the hell are you and how much longer will this link be on every TR page?


Apotheon wrote: "Odd, nobody seems to have such problems in any of the discussion threads I've ever run across and, in fact, I have never heard of anyone complaining about such a thing before, ever, while holy wars between Outlook Express indoctrinated top posters and 'everyone else' bottom posters seem to crop up semi-regularly."

Roughly 80% of the responses here seem to disagree with you on top-posting (plus this post, as well). Most people in a corporate setting have been in on the thread, so they don't want to scroll down to see the latest reply, but the rest of the conversation is there if you need to go back for reference or save it for documentation. So, apparently only about 20% makes up the "everyone else" you were referring to. I think I'll stick with top posting.  In fact, if everyone would top post, I think that might actually take care of your 2nd point as well. The other 8 are pretty good, though.

So for the first person who added the post, perhaps you don't want to change yet.

And for the person a couple of posts above who suggests that all of us TechRepublic members are idiots and maybe he shouldn't continue to be a member, I wish him well in his future endeavors. Perhaps he could start a new IT community where only those with superior intellect and e-mailing capabilities can join.

1. This has been effectively refuted in other posts. It's not that bottom posting isn't a good thing, it's your monomaniacal insistence upon it in all circumstances.
2. Agreed
3. Nope. Not anymore at least. I've been using email for a couple of decades, and until 5-10 years ago I'd have agreed with you. But today, it's up to the text-based client to parse a message and remove the html. No one cares whether someone using Mutt gets spaghetti html. For portable devices the point is more valid, but they also should have enough horsepower to lose the html on their own. No one argues that word processors shouldn't have styled text, even if its use is often abused. Why should email be different? The argument is academic, in any case. The war is over. You lost.
4,5. OK.
6. Hmm. Following this in the previous item "So: be humble.", we get this here: "I'm a spelling and grammar guru with the English language". Good spelling is good. But worse than bad spelling are the gurus who delight in pointing out some trivial typo in an otherwise brilliant post.
7,8. OK
9. OK, sort of. Though your yammering on about line width violates your own "Don't be a completely gratuitous windbag" dictum.
10. See 3 (PO?). Hard line wraps are only necessary if you insist upon plain text email and crummy email clients. I don't care if someone's mailreader doesn't handle line wraps gracefully. That's so last millennium. Another battle lost in a futile war.

Bonus: Yup. Though, in this era of broadband, many ISP's continued use of a 20yr old message size limit stricture of 5MB is silly. Kind of like 20yr old plaintext message format strictures.

In this world of mostly top-posters, I am really pleased when somebody replies to me with a bottom-posted message.  It is Sturgeon's 10 percent and I feel blessed when it happens.

Just because you've done something for 30 years doesn't mean that it's the best thing to do, today, even though there were quite likely good reasons for it, once upon a time.  There is a good chance that the original reasons have disappeared and all that's left is a habit.

Just because Microsoft tricks you into top-posting is no reason to keep it up.

You might have become so mouse-centric that scrolling has become a chore.  I feel your pain.  In such a case, you probably don't realize that a simple Ctrl-End key combination will take you to the bottom of the message in most modern email clients.  Or a couple of whacks on the PageDown key.  None of that bothersome scrolling.

A secretary taking the minutes of a meeting does not stack the sentences in reverse order to which they were uttered.  The email conversation is more followable (if I may?), if it is recorded in the same manner as the minutes.  This, also, has become habit, but, a more efficient habit...it flows.

If the message is only threaded by virtue of continuing subject matter,  specifially, multiple subjects (like when you're catching up with a long lost friend) bottom-posting and interleaved posting, in the same message, works quite well.  This works best for me if I can color code it, so as to be able to tell, at a glance, who said what and in which reply they said it.  And cropping is an important component of such a situation.

I can thinks of times when it doesn't really matter, but, I prefer bottom-posting...less chaotic!

Ya got me wound up, so, I think that I'll say a little more.
I started out top-posting, as best as I can remember, but, somewhere along the line I found myself writing messages that were either very complex or had many replies and in either event they required much re-reading in order to follow the thread as the replies bounced back and forth. This re-reading was too complicated to do in a top-posted message. I first started bottom-posting manually, just to maintain the English language left-to-right top-to-bottom flow, not realizing that it could be made automatic. Somewhere along the line, I read similar material to what apotheon has posted, here. I then felt vindicated. Then, to maintain consistency (the bugaboo of small minds?) with my conversational cohorts, I went back to top-posting. Sometimes, however, top-posting is just plain deficient. If you disagree then you probably haven't had to deal with the levels of complexity that I have in email, or, you're an extreme organizational genius.

There's a good chance that your message exchanges don't normally evolve in a manner whereby it matters how they are laid out. Do you primarily use email for forwarding jokes, pictures, etc. and frequently say little or nothing? If so, then, for you, it doesn't matter very much how it's posted. Are they a series of short one or two line replies? This happens in personal email, a lot, and in corporate email to such an extent that it frequently resembles chat in it's brevity. Sometimes this actually works better with top-posting.

Top-posting might be appropriate, if your intent is to be creative (in the artistic sense).
Or playful.

I'd say that there are some good reasons to change to bottom-posting, but, not to the exclusion of other possibilities. If the message is programmatically threaded, by all means, enhance the flow...bottom-post!  If it is a complex and evolving conversation...bottompost!  If it is hard to hold the parts together and still see the whole...bottompost!

As I've said before, I prefer bottom-posting...less chaotic.

Now, on to issue 2.  I have personally put cropping to good use.

Issue 3. Ditto the creative and playful mentions above.
It depends on what you are doing. Or to use an analogy: which is better, a Kawasaki or a Cessna?

Issues 4,5,6,7,8. I agree wholeheartedly.

Issue 9: The rule isn't well known to me. Makes sense, though. I recall (dimly) reading somewhere, years ago, that the ideal width for readability is something like 30 or 35 characters. Newspaper columns, maybe?

Issue 10: (see 9.) I sometimes hard wrap to a fairly narrow width if it appears that the person with whom I am exchanging messages is having trouble making it fit.

Bonus Issue: Here's another hint. If you don't want to waste your time dealing with such junk, tell the sender. Try to find a tactful way to do it, because, many people will be hurt to hear that their fun is your bane. I try to do the same, but, it usually takes months for a situation to present itself in such a way that I can brooch the subject tenderly. And even then, I suspect that I might come off as arrogant or unfeeling. This only applies if the sender is someone you care about.

I'm one for top-posting.  In all my years of emailing, I've only ever come across one person who didn't top-post and found reading his emails extremely difficult.  It's certainly not quick, one has to peruse the whole conversation to see if a comment has been added.  It's ridiculous.  Top-posting is most efficient, though I must admit, it can be difficult following a conversation at times if the reply is a one worded message referring to point 3 of my email.

This is absurd. For generations medical charts and legal files and case-worker files have been organized with the oldest stuff on the BOTTOM. It is a short-sited person who can't see any value in this. Who wants to rifle through all that stuff to see where the most recent entry begins. Maybe you should sort your inbox with the most recent stuff on the bottom.

First off, I posted a short follow-up to some of this discussion in a separate blog entry. Basically, I'm responding there to all these ridiculous small-picture complaints about cropping as it relates to top-posting. What a waste of bandwidth it is to resend megabytes upon kilobytes of text that has already been sent back and forth a dozen times, all to justify top-posting. If you have to "peruse the entire discussion" or "scroll past the entire discussion" to find the reply, you're doing it wrong.

Secondly, kmatthia suggests I have my email client list most recent emails last rather than first. Um, I do. That is, in fact, the default with the mail user agent I'm using (mutt). It works beautifully. Thanks for the suggestion, though. Of course, I'm not sure you suggested it. Are you trying to make a point about it being hard to find the most recent? See, it's not difficult at all, because I'm using a computer, not a stack of papers. Your points about hardcopy-based record keeping don't apply here. A computer can default to showing you any part of the stack you like first, rather than always starting only at the top. Mine defaults to showing me the "bottom" of the list, where the new stuff has been placed as it arrived. Thus, I get an intuitive top-down progression, and I get to see the most recent stuff when I open my MUA. In fact, it's even better than that: if I have new stuff that fills up more than one screen, it starts by showing me the oldest of the new stuff first so that I will be able to get caught up on context for lengthy exchanges without having to scroll through the list (or flip pages, if this were hardcopy) to find a starting-point after the last thing I'd seen. See how great the digital age can be? Don't limit my efficiency and productivity with inapplicable meatspace data management models that actually slow things down in a cyberspace context. If that's not what you meant, though, I'd like you to tell me what you did mean.

There are rare instances where a top-posted comment is actually a good idea, even discarding for the moment the hell of rearranging a discussion where others have top-posted: a couple of you have made the point that bottom-posting may be the best in almost all cases, but top-posting actually makes sense once in a while. You're right. I chose to avoid mentioning it to keep things a touch simpler and less confusing, and to cut down on the number of people who would take that as carte blanche to top-post without cropping in every instance. Really, top-posting is something one should consider doing when one is steeped enough in bottom-posting wisdom to know the difference between an efficient top-post and mere bending to the weight of peer pressure and the like.

LaFong made the point that hard linewraps are "only necessary if you insist upon plain text email and crummy email clients." Actually, it's necessary if you A) want to keep things more readable (wider paragraphs are harder to read, experimentally validated in psych studies around the same time that it was determined green-on-black was easier to read than white-on-black or black-on-white for monochrome monitors) and B) don't want to be an inconsiderate prick to other people who have crummy email clients. I have an excellent email client that does dynamic line-wraps when needed, and I still prefer hard line-breaks for better readability. In fact, my client will leave other people's stuff unwrapped so that their (often asinine) lack of structure in email is undisturbed in case it might actually be desirable in this case to have longer lines, even while it imposes hard linewraps on my own text for me -- but I can extend it beyond 80 characters any time I want to when composing my own emails if I really want to. I prefer flexibility with a default to something sane and courteous over rigid adherence to an inconsiderate and unstructured "norm".

LaFong also seems to be unaware that even in the US, not only are there many people not using broadband, but the majority of Internet users are still on dialup. There's that self-centered "I got mine" attitude toward email again. Oh, and since the ISP is paying per unit of bandwidth and a bunch of 30MB emails would increase that bandwidth significantly when measured across its entire customer base, 5MB limits on email/attachment sizes makes perfect sense to me. Let me know if you start an ISP, LaFong, so I can avoid it: I don't want to get suckered into using an ISP run by someone with such a short-sighted, business-crippled view of technology as yours, and have it disappear from under me.

LaFong again: I don't tend to go around correcting others' spelling in emails with my little red pen. I just wince at the bad spelling, ignore the email if it's too bad to be able to read (or send a brief note to please rewrite it so it's readable, in rare cases where it's important enough to bother), and move on. The fact I mentioned it here doesn't mean I'm going around correcting people's spelling.

This is getting old. I'm going to stop this reply before it gets too long and go do something useful rather than try to force horses to drink water once they've been led to it.

kmatthia said,

For generations medical charts and legal files and case-worker files have been organized with the oldest stuff on the BOTTOM.

With something that carries that much potential for being out of date, I agree with the filo arrangement. I don't want to rifle through all that stuff, either. However, it is not a box of files we are talking about. We're talking about logs of conversations, like the minutes of a meeting. Said minutes are invariably fifo. Most message threads run dry in a few days and the clutter of historical irrelevance is irrelevant.

Maybe you should sort your inbox with the most recent stuff on the bottom.�

As a matter of fact, I do. It works fine for me, but, I also rearrange it when the need arises.

Bottom posting might be cultured, but in most all cases top posting wins in speed and clarity in communicating what is the most important thing that you want the other person (or people) to know.

TV newscasters don't tell you everything about the war in Iraq before revealing the important new piece of information for that particular day (wouldn't that be an exciting newscast to watch?) so, why would anyone place history in front of the important new information you need to communicate?

I guess it's a choice of creating a message that is one of two things:   A verbose journal of record (which might be needed in rare cases like when a delicate legal issue is involved), or an efficient piece of clear communication.  I'll go with the one that will help the reco[oemt finish faster and with more confidence because they've avoided those moments (or minutes) needed to find the new info in a bottom poster's message.

I would make one suggestion to those who need to communicate a lot of detail in a message:  Consider using bullet points.  Important details can get lost in paragraphs like those I've typed so far.

  • But, if you put one idea here
  • And the followup idea here
  • And, your most important idea here

... whoever has to turn those ideas into reality will have likely have better followthrough.  In fact, I bet I would have better retention of the "10 e-mail Commandments" if you had first provided them as bullet points and then followed up with the details.

In today's short-attention-span world those bullet points would be a visual cue to slow down, focus and read.  A sea of letters, words and paragraphs might be complete in content, but can end up being completely worthless if no one reads it.

Here's a clear example of why context is important: rickk didn't check context, so he doesn't know that I (and others) have, in many ways and several times, already addressed the matters he brings up. I'll repeat, with emphasis and in summary form, some of the high points:

  1. Clarity suffers when you're reading stuff in reversed order. If you have to check context, and it's in reversed order, things can get very difficult to understand, and there ends up being a lot of scrolling back-and-forth, as you scroll downward while reading something, then scroll upward to find the beginning of the next item in chronological order.
  2. You need to crop stuff not immediately necessary. Crop out the materials that don't provide necessary context. If people don't need to read three hundred lines of discussion history to understand what you're saying, don't send it. If there are a handful of lines, say perhaps six of them, of discussion history that is necessary to understanding your message, then they should be reading it anyway, and posting below it is a good idea.
  3. If you want a journal of record, save your emails. Expecting the other guy to always send back unedited discussion history in its entirety is a crappy way to maintain a record of the discussion, and prone to failures.

I am a top poster, will always be a top poster and that is that. I don't want to wade through all the previous conversation just to get to what I'm after to begin with...the reply to my e-mail. After all, I have already read the previous conversation and already know what the main topic is. The only way I will do it another way is if whomever I am working for prefers it done another way. Then I will do it THEIR way. THEY pay my  bills so it is THEIR perogative to dictate how things are done within their own organization.

Like it or not, top posting is the way it has been done for decades and what 'reason' is there to change something THAT DOES WORK and has worked for all those decades. In all those decades, if there was something found to be REALLY wrong with it changes would have been made THEN! Why is it that only now someone wants to upset the status quo simply over a "preference"?

Another "like it or not" is that Microsoft has been able through "their means" to keep practically a steel trap monopoly going with their software. http://blogs.zdnet.com/BTL/?p=2496&tag=nl.e539 How many "package computers" come with anything but Windoze installed on them? Yes, you can install your own preferential programs on them but that doesn't change the fact that M$ Windoze is the majority and it's code is written to TOP POST. K.I.S.S!!! THAT is why the MAJORITY of other e-mail programs default to top posting. No rocket science there.

That being said, this blog TOTALLY left out MY personal biggest e-mail peaves: Forwards that have lists and lists (and lists...) of e-mail addresses of people I don't know. Even a BIGGER peave I have is having someone send a composition and/or forward SENDING MY e-mail address to all kinds of people I do not know = INVASION of my privacy...just a little? Think about that one for at least 10 seconds.

Yes, SOME changes CAN be good. This one seems only to create more confusion. So why just roll over and attempt to change something simply for the sake of change based on personal preferences and NOT for RATIONAL REASONS that actually improve the way things work???

PLEASE refer to the PARAGRAPHS referenced by the response below as you read that response. You should then get the TRUE context of the points I was attempting to make ...without the twisted 'editing'. :|

BTW: I DID in deed READ the entire BLOG. I simply agree with the MAJORITY of responders on this board.

The commentary by btljooz begs for a response, so here it is.

"I don't want to wade through all the previous conversation"
How many times do I have to say it? Learn to crop! Criminy. Learn to read, too, folks.

"Why is it that only now someone wants to upset the status quo simply over a 'preference'?"
I'm going to make a wild guess here: you started using email and similar communication methods in the mid-'90s or later on Windows, didn't you? It wasn't until about then that top-posting started matching and exceeding bottom-posting in prevalence, as I recall, and it basically started happening because of Windows email clients that automatically insert a blank line above the text and place the cursor there.

"MY personal biggest e-mail peaves: Forwards that have lists and lists (and lists...) of e-mail addresses of people I don't know."
Two things: First, this isn't your blog, so you shouldn't expect me to start posting your personal peeves. Second, this was about replying, not forwarding. I've got to agree, though, with your dislike for that, and even stronger dislike for having your email address forwarded without permission to people you don't know. I'd find that particularly odious, too.

"why just roll over and attempt to change something simply for the sake of change based on personal preferences and NOT for RATIONAL REASONS"
I guess you didn't read the original blog post very carefully.

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