Mail & News.

or: What do you mean "my reply is upside-down" ?


Well, I'm sure this has been said better before, but I'm going to quickly type it all up again, just so I've got somewhere to point people if they really want to know.

I'm not intending to have a go at anyone, or make them do anything. If they (in this case, I guess "you") are reading this it will be because they have a genuine desire to do things the correct way.

So this is a "quick n dirty" web page of how to reply to email and news. Feel free to comment on the awful style, terrible colours, bad spelling and messy HTML.

I've used tables and colours on this page to make things a little more readable (I hope). This page seems to work on IE, Opera, Lynx, HotJava and StarOffice on Windows 2000, Lynx under FreeBSD, IE on NT and NetPositive on BeOS 5. As much as I'm trying to help here, that is as much testing as I'm going to do :o)

I think it should be ok on most things. But if not, there is a table-less even simpler text version here.


Things that your software should do:

Your mail client should use a recognised character to quote the message you are replying to. It is usually this, a "greater than" triangular bracket:


You may find that some mail clients do this automatically, whereas some may need you to specify in the configuration, or "options", somewhere. You may find some instructions on how to do this here.

Your software should also include a proper attribution line before a quote. An attribution line looks a bit like this:

"fred bloggs" <> said:

Most halfway decent mail (and news) software will include an attribution line for you when reply to a message. Exactly what that line says varies, but the name ( and/or the e-mail address) of the person you are quoting is usual.

Things that you should do:

Reply, or "post" after the original message, or the part of the message you wish to reply to.

In other words - post at the bottom!

Do not reply at the top, quoting the entire previous mail underneath.

Cut out, delete, "snip" any text that you are not replying to, or is not relevant.

Don't quote "sigs" - the little bits of text at the end of a message that people use as "signatures" in mail and news. You should not quote these unless you are going to say something about it.

Don't use HTML in mail unless you are absolutely sure that the recipient doesn't mind it!

If you are going to have a signature, you should also make sure that your sig begins like this:


That is "dash dash space newline(aka return)"

This is so mail and news software can remove your sig automatically, saving everybody a lot of time and effort.

A lot of people, who are doing *so* well up to this point, stumble on this last point - they miss out the "space" in "dash dash space"

There are also some mail clients that will remove that trailing space whether you like it or not - I'm afraid there is not a lot you can do about that, other than get a better mail client.

Finally, if you decide to have a signature, or "sig", you should try and make it four lines or less. there are various reasons for this, but trust me, its just the polite thing to do.


You may ask (go on, you know you want to) why should I do things this way ?

1. Because it works. It really does. Various variations on the theme of "people" have been using email and news for something like thirty years. This is the system that developed.

If in doubt, lurk somewhere like or demon.service and observe a few threads with multiple posters and conversations. Hopefully, you should see what I mean - quoting properly, snipping irrelevant text and sigs is *even* more important the more people are involved in a online conversation.

Some other questions have come up on this topic before. People far more eloquent than me have answered them, and I have paraphrased some of their answers below:

Why should I not put my reply where I want to?

Because it makes the message harder to read.

Also, it depends if you want to be taken seriously or not. if you want the people who will be able to help you to actually do that, adhering to conventions is a good idea.

Usenet posts (and emails) should flow like a conversation - listen, then reply.

Or, if you want to get really pedantic about it:

Excepted from rfc1855

- if you are sending a reply to a message or a posting be sure you summarize the original at the top of the message, or include just enough text of the original to give a context. this will make sure readers understand when they start to read your response. since netnews, especially, is proliferated by distributing the postings from one host to another, it is possible to see a response to a message before seeing the original. giving context helps everyone. but do not include the entire original!

But quoting at the top of the message is quicker - that way you don't have to scroll down to find an answer - it makes much more sense!

Quicker for who ? with upside down quoters, you have to scroll down to find the context, then scroll back up to read the actual new text. with normal people's messages, it's all inline. much easier to read.

In fact, I had to go to the bottom of your post before I knew what the context of this post was. then I had to return to the top to read what you had written about it.

But my mail/news client puts the cursor at the top of the message!

Oh my god, it doesn't does it? hell, that means you might actually have to *move* the cursor, and that's obviously far too much effort to put in just to make your message readable by people who don't have an infinite memory capacity to memorize the content of all articles in all groups they read.


It must be very hard to press the down key on your keyboard. I'm amazed you manage to type anything at all.

In short, you don't have to do any of this. But if you find people don't take you seriously, or don't answer any of your questions...

...don't be surprised.


So, put it all together, and what do you get ?

Let us start with a mail:

Hiya Fred,

About that project - I think it is a good idea.
Oh, by the way, have you got that document ready ?


Bob Person
Senior Email example writer, BigCorp PLC.

Your reply might be like this:

"Bob Person" said:

>Hiya Fred,

Hiya Bob.

>About that project - I think it is a good idea.

I think its a rubbish idea, bob.

>Oh, by the way, have you got that document ready ?

Yup - it's attached.

Fred Other-Bloke
Fred ~ another example person
BigCorp PLC - "at least we know how to quote"

...and so on. That way it reads like a conversation, and still makes sense when you come back to it. It also means that the conversation can carry on, like this:

Third Mail:

"Fred Other-Bloke" said:

>"Bob Person" said:


>>About that project - I think it is a good idea.
>I think its a rubbish idea, bob.

Ok, lets meet and talk it over.

Bob Person
Senior Email example writer, BigCorp PLC.

You see ? Its just easier to follow.

Also notice the use of "<snip>" to signify the removal of text that is not relevant - that the person is not replying to.

Also notice that "<snip>" is not used for sigs, as removing them is standard, so there is no need to mention it.

Other things that will make you look stupid:

Any kind of legal disclaimer after the body of a message. Things that say, in effect "don't read the message above unless its for you!" after you have just read it! (Legally useless too, I understand)

Any kind of legal disclaimer in a public forum (news, mailing list, etc)

Asking for detailed information or help in a public forum and then asking for said info to be mailed to you privately. (aka "Read in group, post in group.")

Further reading:

Like this page, only a lot better, with long words and stuff:

Stuff about news:

in particular:

Even more specifically:

The real techie version:


Well, I hope this has been of some help. Bye for now.