E-Mail Basics


E-MAIL, short for Electronic Mail, allows people connected to the Internet (through a computer, of course) to send MESSAGES (code word for an electronic   "letter" or "mail") back and forth. You might think of it as the electronic equivalent of the postal service (albeit a very rapid postal service).

Just like the postal service, you can SEND e-mail (like sending a letter) or RECEIVE e-mail (like finding a letter in your mail box). You can COMPOSE a message (i.e. write a letter), REPLY to a message, FORWARD a message, DELETE a message, CARBON COPY (cc) a message, BLIND CARBON COPY (bcc) a message and perform several other useful tasks for sending and receiving information.

To do any of this e-mail stuff, you need an e-mail PROGRAM, a piece of software that gives you access to the Internet and allows you to exchange e-mail with other computer users connected to the Internet. Chances are you have an e-mail program on your computer.

If AOL is your INTERNET SERVICE PROVIDER (ISP), then your AOL software comes with e-mail functions built-in. The title of the recent Tom Hanks movie, You've Got Mail, comes from AOL's well-known prompt "You've got mail,"  heard when there is unread e-mail in your AOL mailbox. If you have never used AOL's e-mail functions, take a few moments to review their very useful HELP FILES related to sending and receiving e-mail.

If you have another ISP and use Netscape Navigator or Communicator, your computer may be configured to send and receive e-mail through your web browser. In this instance, your e-mail and web browsing functions exist in the same piece of software, much like AOL's software.

If you have another ISP and use Internet Explorer, then you may be using Outlook Express or Outlook to access e-mail. These programs are typically installed with other Microsoft programs you may have on your computer, like Windows '95 or '98, Word, Excel, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Office, etc. Look under Start, Programs to determine if you are using one of these programs.

If you don't know whether your e-mail software is already configured, then you will need to talk to the person who set up your computer. If you are on your own as far as the computer is concerned, don't fret. Your ISP can help you configure your e-mail program. Just figure out which e-mail program you are using (or going to use), then call them on the phone. They will be more than happy to help. That's their job!

In any case, and especially if you are using someone else's computer, you will need to set up a USERNAME for yourself. For crying out loud, don't use someone else's username. It gets way too confusing. All ISPs, including AOL, allow you to set up multiple usernames on a single e-mail account. It doesn't cost extra. If they try to charge you extra, change ISPs.

Before you set up a username, you will want to choose a username. A username is a unique series of letters and numbers that identifies you and only you. Some ISPs restrict you to eight (8) characters (letters and numbers), some allow more. In any event, have several choices ready because sometimes it takes a few tries to find a username that is unique. If your first pick is rejected (meaning someone else is using that username), pick another one. Be creative but pick a username that's easy to remember.

Your username will be the first part of your E-MAIL ADDRESS. You will need to know your complete e-mail address, not just your username. AOL users are especially problematic with this because AOL lets you send e-mail to other AOL users without typing the entire address. Get out of this terrible habit. Always type your entire e-mail address.

E-mail addresses are made up of...

Along with your account, you must select a PASSWORD. Your username and password will be required to log-on to your account, unless it is set up so that your program automatically "remembers" your password. Even if log-on is automatic, find out your password and write it down. When you use another computer, a distinct possibility, you will need to know your password.

Once you completed setting up your e-mail account, WRITE DOWN YOUR E-MAIL ADDRESS and PASSWORD. That means to write it somewhere so that it is always with you. Always. Everywhere. Lots of people will ask you for your e-mail address, including me. Make sure you know what it is and that you can provide this very important piece of information any time it's asked for.

Still with me?

If this seems confusing, take a deep breath. The first few steps are the most difficult. Once you are up and running, you won't even have to think about most of this stuff. Ask someone for help if you are having trouble. That's the beauty of the cyberworld: most everyone is very happy to help.

Now that you have an e-mail address, why not try sending an e-mail? Click on the Compose Button or use the pull-down menu. A box will appear that looks something like this:

emailhow.gif (35904 bytes)

Note that your e-mail address automatically appears in the FROM box.   In the TO box, type in drc@oceansonline.com. Make sure you TYPE IT EXACTLY. If you want someone else to get a copy of the e-mail, type their e-mail address in the Cc: box. For now, type your e-mail address. That way you can get a copy of the message that you are sending. In the SUBJECT box, type "Testing E-mail." Then in the BODY of the e-mail (all the white space below the HEADER), type a short message. Start the message with your Name, Student ID# and Section #.

When you have finished composing your message, click on the SEND button. That's it. Unless you get a message back MAIL UNDELIVERABLE, you can rest assured that your e-mail was successfully sent.

Now let's CHECK or RECEIVE E-MAIL. This part is really simple. In most instances, when you open the e-mail program it will automatically check your e-mail. Unread messages will appear in your INBOX or you will hear "You've got mail." Click on the InBox or the Mail Icon and your messages will appear. If you typed you e-mail address into Cc: in the test above, then you will see a copy of this test e-mail in your unread e-mail messages.

To READ messages, click (or double-click, in some instances) on the message. It will pop up for you to read.

Once read, you can REPLY to a message by clicking on the REPLY button or using the pull-down menu. When you reply, your e-mail program automatically types the e-mail address of you, the SENDER or PRIMARY USER, and the RECIPIENT, the person to whom you are sending the e-mail. Check to make sure you are sending your e-mail to the right place and check to make sure that your e-mail address is the one to which you want the recipient to respond. It's real easy to hit that reply button and send an e-mail to a wrong address, especially if the person sending it to you was using someone else's computer. Get in the habit of checking e-mail addresses for both the recipient and the sender. Once you are done typing your message, click the send button.

E-mail programs also allow you to FORWARD an e-mail. Perhaps you want to send the message to a friend or to another e-mail address. That's great most of the time. However, it is downright rude to forward a forward, more so to forward a forwarded forward, and especially so to forward a forwarded forwarded forward. Instead of forwarding, just COPY the message (by selecting all or part of it) and PASTE it into a new message. This is the polite thing to do.

While we are talking NETIQUETTE (that's short for net etiquette), you should know that it is also very rude to type in ALL CAPS. Typing in all caps is called "screaming in cyberspace" and not only does it hurt the eyes to read, it also immediately identifies you as a NEWBIE, an unskilled Internet newcomer. Sending e-mail like a seasoned net veteran means paying attention to common rules of net courtesy.

One of the limitations of e-mail is its inability to convey feeling. For this reason, various EMOTICONS (also known as SMILIES, for example :-} or <:.o) have been created to provide FLAVOR and INTENT to your messages. Check out Owen Prater's Unofficial Dictionary of Smilies. I think you'll find it funny, if not useful.

ABBREVIATIONS are common in e-mail, not only to save time typing but as a way to embellish your messages. For example, j/k means "just kidding" and cul8r means "see you later." You might even invent your own!

One problem many newcomers to the Internet encounter is a feeling that people are being unfriendly.  Maybe you think that someone is being short with you because they send you a very terse reply. Nothing could be further from the truth. The beauty of e-mail is its BREVITY. E-mail enables rapid responses and quick replies. It gets the job done more efficiently, which is communicating. Unlike the phone, there is no need for small talk when writing e-mail. A "how are you?" and "how's the weather?" and "blah, blah, blah" just aren't part of the e-mail culture.

Frequent short messages are far more desirable than infrequent long ones. So keep your messages short, use emoticons and don't be too sensitive. If you need more explanation, then simply send a quick reply requesting additional clarification. Most people will be willing to give you a longer reply if you need it.

By now, you should have some sense of the mechanics of sending and receiving e-mail and a better idea of the E-MAIL CULTURE. If you don't feel comfortable yet, re-read the above paragraphs and spend some time playing around with the various e-mail functions and HELP FILES. The more you learn how to figure out problems on your own, the more successful you are going to be in all aspects of your life. Be bold! You can't screw anything up on a computer. At worse, you may have to reboot or reinstall the software. Big deal! You'll learn something along the way, which is the point of this whole adventure in the first place.

Once you are comfortable with your knowledge of e-mail, please read very carefully the sections on sending and receiving e-mail for this course. These sections are not repeats of the above information. They provide highly specific requirements for e-mail communications related to this course.

As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me, drc@oceansonline.com.