E-mail – I

Reaching Across the Globe Faster – Part I


Anatomy of an E-mail address
E-mail Messages


It can take days to send mail across the country and weeks to go around the world. That is why nowadays it is referred to as ‘snail mail’. To save time and money, we use electronic mail. It’s fast, it’s easy to use and it’s cheaper than the post office. So what is e-mail? In its simplest form, e-mail is an electronic message sent from one computer to another. You can send or receive personal and business-related messages with attachments like pictures or other documents.

Just as a letter or document makes stops at the different postal stations along its way, e-mail is passed from one computer to another as it travels along the network. Each computer reads the e-mail address and routes it to another computer until it eventually reaches its destination. It’s then stored in an electronic mailbox. With the Internet, this whole process usually takes just a few minutes, allowing you to quickly and easily communicate with millions of people around the world anytime of the day or night, for the cost of a local phone call.

You can send e-mail to practically anyone with an e-mail address, anywhere in the world. Until recently, e-mail on the Internet was good only for short notes. You couldn’t send attachments like formatted documents or graphics. With the advent of MIME, which stands for Multipurpose Internet Mail Extension, and other types of encoding schemes, like UUencode, not only can you send messages electronically, but you can also send formatted documents, photos, sound files, and video files as attachments.


Let’s take a quick look at the anatomy of an e-mail address. Internet e-mail addresses typically have two main parts:


First there is the user name which refers to the recipient’s mailbox. Then there’s an @ sign. Next comes the host name, which is also called the domain name. This refers to the computer where the recipient has a mailbox and is usually the name of a company or organization. The domain name can have more than one component, each separated by a [DOT]. (eg. isaac@troy.emrc.com). Next, there’s a [DOT] followed by three letters that indicate the type of domain it is.

An address ending with com extension means the host is a business or commercial enterprise or a commercial online service. Most companies use this extension. A host name with edu extension means the host is a university or educational facility while an org extension indicates the host is a non-commercial organization. Some other extensions are ‘gov’ for government, ‘net’ for network which is basically reserved for organizations like Internet Service Providers.

Sometimes the e-mail addresses contain the recipient’s country also. For example the email id ‘aleon@giasmd01.vsnl.net.in’ indicates that it is the email of a person in India. Similarly an extension of ‘sg’ means Singapore, ‘hk’ means Hong Kong, etc.


E-mail messages are a lot like letters. There are two main parts: header and body. The header contains your name and address, the name and address of the person it’s being sent to, the name and address of anyone who is being copied, the date of the message and what the message is about (subject). Just like with regular mail, you need the correct address. If you use the wrong address or mistype it, your message will get bounced back to you –the old Return to Sender, Address Unknown routine. When you receive an e-mail from someone, the header tells you where it came from, what is it about, how it was sent, and when. It’s sort of like an electronic postmark.

The body is the meat of the message. This is where you write what you want to communicate. Simplicity, directness, and brevity will make people read your messages. Our E-mail says a lot about our values, our attention to detail, and the reputation of the organization we represent. Here are some guidelines which will improve the quality to your E-mail writing style:

  • Sound human.
  • Write it the way you would say it. – use everyday language.
  • Vary your sentence lengths.
  • Be friendly, and use humor to break up the tension of what you have to say.
  • Look sharp. Good writing is 90% clarity, and half of clarity is appearance. No one likes facing a long unbroken block of text characters. Put a blank line between paragraphs to help you organize your thinking. If you have six points to make, number them as such and indent each one.
  • Use your technology. A memory-resident spellchecker or thesaurus will help you avoid the embarrassment of a misspelled word or a word used incorrectly.
  • Compose your messages off-line. A regular word processor is much more powerful than the text editors used on most E-mail systems.
  • Read the message before sending it, you will be amazed by the number of mistakes that had crept in.

Most e-mail programs these days let you insert what’s called a signature at the bottom of the message. This can be anything from a clever quote to some additional information about you, like your title and company name or other e-mail addresses you have.

Alexis Leon, DQ Week Madras, 14th April 1997.

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