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Mail etiquette and rules

Email is a very useful and convenient means of communication. It is however a good idea to bear in mind that

  • email does not allow you to show tones of voice and so on; misunderstandings can arise and courtesy is at least as important as in face-to-face communication.

  • when you reply to a mail message, you are usually given the option of including the text to which you are replying. This is useful, but it is advisable to edit the text to remove irrelevant material. It can be irritating to receive a 50-line message of which 49 are your own original text and the only extra line just says "No". The same applies when you are forwarding mail from one correspondent to another; send only what you need to send.

  • signatures are useful for showing your full name, affiliation, postal address, telephone number, and so on, but should be limited in length; the recommended maximum is four lines.

  • computing resources, including the JANET network on which all email going outside the University is carried, are made available only for "use in accordance with the aims of the University and Colleges "; in general this means for academic and educational purposes, including "reasonable personal use". Commercial activity is strictly forbidden unless specifically authorised. See the Information Strategy and Services Syndicate rules and guidelines for use of UIS systems and the CUDN.

  • although the use of bulk email (identical email sent out to groups of individuals) can on occasion be in the interests of the University, it can nevertheless present real problems and dangers. See the Guidelines on Use of Bulk Email in Cambridge.

  • email is not exempt from the laws of libel and of copyright; you should not put someone else's text into an email message without their permission.

  • if you need to send mail regularly to a long list of people, then it is better to use a mailing list for the purpose, to avoid long lists of recipients at the top of everyone's copy.

  • junk email is at least as irritating as junk paper mail, and easier to generate; do not send copies of email to long lists of recipients unless you have a very good reason to do so. In particular, the initiating or passing on of chain letters by email is expressly forbidden on University systems, and generally frowned upon by the worldwide Internet community.

  • It is likely that you will receive a certain amount of junk mail or spam. This is a worldwide problem. It is usually best to ignore it; do not reply even if the sender offers to remove you from their lists. The Computing Service offers a central service which attempts to identify spam for you; to make use of this, see Junk and other unwanted mail. Harassing mail that appears to be directed to you personally should be reported to

  • Beware of attachments! They are a common way of spreading computer malware. Never open an attachment you were not expecting, even if it appears to come from a friend. If you think it is probably genuine, save it to a file and scan it with an up-to-date virus checker before opening it. You may receive mail which has a warning on it that an attachment suspected of being a virus has been removed; see the page on the central email scanner for more details.

  • It is important to check your email reasonably regularly, as your correspondents will assume (as with paper mail) that messages are reaching you. When you are away, there are various steps you should take, depending how long you are away and how much mail you expect to receive: see Forwarding (redirection) and vacation messages.

  • Although email is usually reliable messages, like letters, can occasionally get lost or be delayed. If it is important to know that a message you have sent has been received and read, then it is worth asking the recipient to acknowledge your message.