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dave obee How to use email more effectively

By Dave Obee

We're all being bombarded with spam these days, and many people are using their email less as a result. It seems to be difficult to notice the good stuff among all those offers of patches and pills.

There are, however, a few tricks we can use to improve the odds of success with the emails that we send. Here are some that we've found, based on the email traffic we see each day. You can apply these theories to any email you send.

Subject line

Make sure it's meaningful! Simply saying "Hi" doesn't cut it, because that's one of the common subject lines in spam. Same with "Sorry I missed you," and other generic terms. So be as specific as you can be.

If you're asking about the Obees in Teston, Kent, as an example, then put those words into the subject line. Saying "Obees, Teston, Kent" will get my attention; saying "A question" will likely get the email deleted.

If you're following up on something from a mailing list, be sure to change the subject line if the thread has changed. It might pick up people who had no interest in the initial subject line.

Give enough information

We get many emails that contain less than a sentence of useful information. Be sure there is enough in your email to make the recipient understand quickly what you're looking for. If you might have a connection with a certain family in a specific area, give as much information as you can, so the person who gets your message can deal with in right away.

You don't want to get into an exchange, with questions going back and forth.

Give the right information

What's as frustrating as getting an email with too little information? Getting one with too much -- of the useless variety. People don't have time to go through paragraph after paragraph of background if they still haven't confirmed a connection.

So give them enough information to enable them to answer your email, without seeking clarification from you. Don't tell them your ancestor's life story. If there really is a connection, there will be plenty of time for that.

Keep it simple

The best way to get an answer is to ask only a few questions, all of them simple. The best way to avoid getting an answer is to ask many complicated ones -- because the recipient will put the message to one side, to wait for the day when there is enough time to deal with it.

It's best to ask one or two questions at a time, then ask more in subsequent emails. Chip away at it, rather than trying to break through all at once.

Use a signature

A "sig" file is the little tag you see at the bottom of many messages. You can include key information there -- some people use it to list the primary names they are researching.

If you have a web site, put the address in your signature. Again, it will enable the recipient to learn more about you without having to get into an exchange of emails with you. That saves time -- for both of you.

Send attachments by request only

Email was designed for genealogists, of course, but that doesn't mean we want our computers cluttered with everyone else's family tree files or photos. Make sure they are wanted before you send them. If possible, put them on a web site or FTP site, so the intended recipient can download them on their own schedule.

It can be frustrating to sit down at the computer to quickly check for email -- only to find that someone is sending a one-meg file over a phone line.

Answer as soon as you can

OK, that's the tough one.

Posted January 7, 2004


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