Educational ICT Virtualisation Specialist 

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Stage 1

The Problem

By default, Outlook does not indent message replies properly making it very difficult to maintain a discussion over a period of time. It also encourages top-posting which is where a reply is above the text being replied to. This is different from virtually every other email client and also completely ignores 30 years of email usage during which the most effective ways of working have emerged as de facto standards (part of what is affectionately known as Netiquette which was formalised in RFC-1855). It can be summarised very quickly in 4 lines:

A: Because it messes up the order in which people normally read text.
Q: Why is top-posting such a bad thing?
A: Top-posting.
Q: What is the most annoying thing in email?

For example, a typical reply from someone using Outlook to the following email:

How are you today? 

Are you going out tonight? What pub shall we meet
at?
Would be along the lines of:
I'm well. Yes, how about the Carlton?

--- Original Message ---
From: sender <sender@domain.com>
Sent: 13 June 2007 08:00
To: recipient <me@there.com>
Subject: Hello

How are you today?

Are you going out tonight? What pub shall we meet at?
or even:
--- Original Message ---
From: sender <sender@domain.com>
Sent: 13 June 2007 08:00
To: recipient <me@there.com>
Subject: Hello

How are you today?

Well.

Are you going out tonight? What pub shall we meet at?

Yes, how about the Carlton?
This is very difficult to follow especially when the mails grow in length, have been replied to a few times or you have dealt with enough other emails to forget exactly what was being discussed. It's very easy for misunderstandings to occur. This can be especially concerning when there are multiple subjects being discussed, as it is very easy for answers to be assumed to be responses to the wrong question or missed entirely (the example above isn't really long enough to do justice to the problem).

This should look like:

> How are you today?

Well, thanks.

> Are you going out tonight?

Yes, but not until later

> What pub shall we meet at?

The Carlton?
Compare the message after another round of replies:
Late night? 8pm.
--- Original Message ---
From: sender <sender@domain.com>
Sent: 13 June 2007 09:00
To: recipient <me@there.com>
Subject: Hello

I'm feeling tired. What time?

--- Original Message ---
From: recipient <me@there.com>
Sent: 13 June 2007 08:30
To: sender <sender@domain.com>
Subject: Hello

I'm well, how about you? Yes, how about the Carlton?

--- Original Message ---
From: sender <sender@domain.com>
Sent: 13 June 2007 08:00
To: recipient <me@there.com>
Subject: Hello

How are you today?

Are you going out tonight? What pub shall we meet at?

Or just as bad:

How are you today?

I'm well, how about you?

I'm feeling tired.

Late night?

Are you going out tonight? What pub shall we meet at?

Yes, how about the Carlton

What time?

8pm

This is much clearer:

> > > How are you today
> >
> > I'm well, how about you?
>
> I'm feeling tired.

Late night?

> > > Are you going out tonight? What pub shall we meet at?
> >
> > Yes, how about the Carlton
>
> What time?

8pm
This provides a clear structure, allows you see instantly what is the original and what is the reply and more importantly, is the way that email has always been used since its invention over 30 years ago. Only Outlook has such a poor default setting; unfortunately this has become prevalent. Here's how to fix it...
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