ASSOCIATES (vol. 2, no. 1, July 1995) -

Table of Contents

               The Reality of Belonging to a List


                      Patricia M. Lambirth
                       Reserve Coordinator
                         Folsom Library
                Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Last Spring, Ed Gillen posted a message to the Library Support
Staff List (libsup-l) regarding email and asked how it was
handled by the various members of the list.  There were many
responses and the following article is a summary of all the

Although one respondent did point out that there are books
available addressing the 'netiquette issues, I do not believe the
original posting was intended to develop rules for
'netiquette/etiquette, but rather was a survey of the reality
of belonging to a prolific list (in many cases, several prolific
lists) while holding down a full-time job.

I believe it was also posted in an effort to get individuals who
post ("posters") to give some thought to the messages they send
to any list.  Just addressing the issues of subject lines, length
of messages, readability, etc., makes one very aware of how
postings are perceived by recipients, and keeping those thoughts
in mind may help posters write messages that receive the
reception the sender intended.

The original question posted by Ed Gillen (5/12/95) was "What do
you consider good email communications?  There is a lot written
about email 'netiquette, but what about good communication
skills?  Some questions for you to mull over follow":

Q.   How long should a posting be?  Do you stop reading no matter
     what the topic once you've reached a certain page?

A.   Most people indicated that anything beyond two screens would
     have to be really interesting to keep their attention,
     although everyone agreed that, if the topic warranted, they
     would keep reading right to the end.  Preference for shorter
     postings was very clearly expressed by respondents.

Q.   Are shorter paragraphs more effective than longer

A.   Again, brevity won.  However, all recognized that it was
     often necessary to be lengthy if the topic warranted it.
     Paragraphing is IMPORTANT, according to the respondents, and
     some stated that visual enhancements were not only nice, but
     very necessary for reading onscreen!  Liberal use of white
     space was definitely encouraged.

Q.   If you ask a question -- where should the question be

A.   Respondents were quite mixed on this.  The general consensus
     appeared to be that the question should be placed at the
     beginning, at the end, in the middle, wherever you believed
     it fit -- the choice was yours.

Q.   How important is the subject line in relation to deleting
     the message without even looking at it?

A.   It was almost unanimous -- subject was VERY important.  When
     a subject was something outside of an individual's area of
     interest, it was deleted.  Not everyone had the option of
     changing the subject line on a reply, but when the topic of
     long-standing thread changed, it was important to indicate
     that by using the subject line.

Q.   Do you automatically delete NO SUBJECT because you believe
     it's someone trying to subscribe or unsubscribe? (I do).

A.   Deletion of NO SUBJECT seemed to be a 50-50 split.  Those
     who did not delete, did so out of convenience (ease of mail
     program operation) or curiosity.

Q.   If you ask an individual a question, what length of time do
     you give the individual to answer before you start thinking
     that: a) the person never got it; b) the person got it and
     is ignoring you; or c) the person got it and I'm being
     unreasonable in my thinking that, because electronic mail
     SHOULD be instantaneous, I can expect an immediate response?

A.   Most members felt that they would not reissue their original
     posting in less than a week.  All recognized that vacations,
     illness, etc., could prevent the individual from receiving
     the message.  Many indicated that they kept copies of their
     out-going mail and re-checked it every 7 - 10 days or so,
     and thus kept track of their unanswered posts that way.

Q.   How frequently should you check your email?

A.   All respondents replied that they checked their mail at
     least once a day.  Most people checked in the early morning.
     Those who were able to re-check later in the day, checked
     again after lunch, while those who have the opportunity to
     check more often, also checked before leaving for the day.

Q.   If you answer an individual's question, should you receive
     an acknowledgement?
A.   Most did not feel that an acknowledgment was necessary
     unless the individual put forth extra effort to answer the
     question.  All felt that a "thank you" was very nice though.

     thought I'd get things going on a slow Friday.

A.   Nobody admitted to stopping before the end of this post.  Of
     course, if they did, they would not know they were supposed
     to answer!  These closing comments raised many eyebrows
     (figuratively, of course) -- most all wondered what a "slow"
     Friday was.

My personal thanks to Ed for providing the questions above.  It
certainly gave us all food for thought.  I know I will take the
comments of the members of the listserv to heart and make every
attempt to communicate well and efficiently.