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Quote Judiciously

Email is a store and forward communications systems. There is no guarantee that your recipient will see any response you make to one of their messages while the topic is still fresh in their mind. In addition, on a broadcast list or in an archive, others will come into the conversation in the middle and not have any memories of the past exchange to provide them context. To refresh memories and preserve context, portions of the original message are thus quoted.

However, quote only those portions of the original message that are relevant to the topic being addressed. The goal is to get the message across, so the quoting should be tailored to that task. When you do reply, make sure you quote just enough of the other person's message for context, and not a word more. Keep a balance between quoted material and your added response. Try to ensure that the amount of quoted text is less than the amount of text in your response.

Without proper quoting, people may not know what you are responding to and your post may be ignored. When duplicate unquoted text shows up in a mailing list digest, it makes reading the digest extremely difficult.

There is almost never any need to quote someone else's post in full. As a matter of fact, full quoting is usually considered quite rude, for doing so shows a studied lack of consideration on the part of the poster for their readers. The worst example of this is posting a reply to a digest, quoting the complete digest and not removing any of the quoted content.

Removing unncessary content from your replies includes the mailing list signature lines that are appended to each post; this also includes removing lengthy signatures from the post you are replying to, excessive blank lines, and excessive quoted text from the previous message. In other words, always edit your replies completely, and reread what you intending to send, before clicking "Send". Unnecessary "noise" makes the messages unwieldy and distract from the key points you are trying to make.

Quoting sparingly does require manual work, since most email programs automatically quote the complete original message in replies. But failing to edit the original message wastes everyone's time and bandwidth. Additionally, while it is probably not the intent, full quoting in essence says to the reader, "You are not important enough to me for me to bother trimming out these screens fulls of quoted text. You will just have to wade through them."

In some email programs, you can select some text in the original message, press a keyboard shortcut or click a "Reply" button/menu item, and have only that text appear quoted in the reply. Other email programs assume that replying with some original text selected means you want to quote only that text.

Especially problematic are email programs that quote an original message by appending it to the bottom of the reply with no quote marks in front of each line. That prevents inline replies, since there is no easy way to differentiate original and new text, so users of those programs tend to leave the entire original hanging off the end of the reply. That is fine in private messages, but in mail destined for a mailing list, it is just sloppy and rude. Unfortunately, the only solution to this problem is to switch to a different email program.

Users of Microsoft Outlook (and mosts other MS products and services) have a habit of keeping the entire history of a thread in email replies. This is okay for personal email between two individuals, but is completely inappropriate for mailing lists. The history of mailing list threads can be obtained from the list archives.

Membership in a mailing list should be enjoyable for all members, and this is helped by each list member making certain their messages are as easy to read as reasonably possible, and each list members making certain threads are as easy to follow as reasonably possible.

Experiment with your particular email program and investigate some of the preferences and settings. It requires minimal effort to maximize the number of recipients that will read, understand, and respect your email responses.

If you are interested in a fruitful and useful discussion, the impression left by improper quoting is probably not something you want to give, especially when you are just feeling lazy and are not actually intending to be insulting. Instead, expend a little effort to show respect for your readers: trim well and quote judiciously.

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