Email line lengths
Wed, 7 Oct 1998 22:19:12 +1000 (EST)
On Wed, 7 Oct 1998, Robin Whittle wrote:
> One of the "common-sense" things (to me) to establish is a guideline
> that emails should typically consist of lines no more than ~70
> characters, unless the line contains quoted text (which spaces it out
> a few more characters per quote) or unless the sender specifically
> wants the lines to be longer - for instance to include a big table or
> a long URL.
It's very hard to "enforce" such things without resorting to
a lot of user education, since the current crop of desktop
email clients definitely encourages some weird uses of email!
> I encounted unexpected resistance to this - mainly from people who
> have been using ccMail, Groupwise or Outlook for a while. So I am
> preparing my arguments carefully. I won't list them all here.
Yes, I have this argument every day with our LAN/desktop people,
every time they send me a message in HTML, or with ms-tnef
format attachments, or 90 character lines.
> 1 - Is there any formal standard regarding Internet email line
> length, or was it just a "common-sense" thing that everyone
> did, and the email clients did by default, so no-one figured
> it was necessary to formally set a standard or guideline?
I always thought it was just common sense, but of course there are
a lot of sites that purport to be be advocates of conflicting
forms of netiquette ;)
Emily Postnews FAQ for new users of USENET comes to mind.
Definitely you can get into minutiae about things like "sigdashes"
and the length of signatures itself.
Sven Guckes is what some might call a zealot on the subject of email,
so I'll give you some of his opinions:
And especially the section "Guides on Email usage".
The site is what I would call definitive ;)
> 2 - Its my impression in my Internet usage since 1993 that this
> problem of email clients sending each paragraph as a very
> long line has only arisen in recent years, and that the clients
> which can do it, and typically do it as their default
> configuration, are ccMail, Novel Groupwise and certain
> Microsoft programs (Outlook) - all of which have their
> genesis in closed proprietary LAN email, and which were later
> pressed into service for SMTP email with the Internet.
That would be close, but any email client on any platform that supports
the use of a variable width font suffers from the problem.
I always try to encourage using fix-width fonts as a part solution.
The size of the font should vary according to the screen resolution
> Does anyone have any impressions on this, particularly those
> who have been using the Net since way before my time?
I find it quite annoying since I use a "dinosaur" email client
that runs in character cell mode.
It's even more of a pain when trying to reply since context
can be lost or mixed up more easily.
The problem obviously extends beyond email and into USENET, and even
to the design and formatting of web pages, of course.
People definitely have been complaining about the problem for
many years, as it extends beyond the use of email and into
"editor advocacy wars" back into the dark ages of computing....
> 3 - Is anyone aware of any arguments for each paragraph being
> a very long line terminated by a carriage return, in terms
> of it being more convenient or more communicative?
The only time I would use formatting as you just described would be if it
had to be injected into a database as a kind of a field.
As for readability, that depends on the client software at the other end.
Unfortunately, most people insist on the viewpoint that their desktop
is the start and end point of the Internet, and configure their
desktop to suit themselves. As such, quite often no thoughts
about remote contact with others is given and you end up dealing with
all kinds of incompatibilities along the way.
By sticking to the lowest common denominator (which doesn't necessarily mean
the lowest technology), you ensure that the message is clearly communicated
and properly delivered.
> The people I am working with have agreed to quite a number of other
> "common-sense" operational guidelines, and they really surprised me
> by opposing this one.
I consider Sven Guckes an authority on the subject (among others),
and I would think if you presented his arguments you would not get
much opposition ;)
Rachel Polanskis Kingswood, Greater Western Sydney, Australia
"Yow! Am I having fun yet?!" - John Howard^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H Zippy the Pinhead