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Email Mailing List

Mailing Lists

How and where to find an email mailing list

People use email mailing lists for a variety of reasons: because they are interested in a certain topic, because they want to trade tips with people who have similar jobs or hobbies, or even just because they enjoy the personal interaction. To find a mailing list on your topic of choice, use a search engine to search for the topic, the type of list (for example, do you want a support group or an academic forum?) and the words "mailing list". For example, if you are looking for a mailing list on epilepsy, search for 'epilepsy mailing list'. If you get thousands of results, you can narrow down your search. For example, if you were looking for an epilepsy support group, include the words "support group" in your search term. That way you will exclude mailing lists for people who work in epilepsy research.


The quickest way to subscribe is usually via a website. You will usually have to fill in an online form with some details, including your email address. A message will then be sent to your email address asking you to confirm it. If you have access to email but no access to the Web, you can join an email mailing list by writing to the list's moderator.

How email mailing lists work

There has been so much confusion about the difference between mailing lists and discussion groups that the terms are often used interchangeably. Using the terms in their strict sense, the meanings overlap: a discussion group can be (and often is) an e-mail mailing list, and vice-versa, but not all mailing lists are discussion groups and not all discussion groups are mailing lists. Some discussion groups operate on the Web without the messages reaching the inboxes of subscribers, while some mailing lists (known as announce-only lists) are for the dissemination of information rather than for discussion.

Protection of email addresses

How successfully you avoid people using your email address for their own purposes depends on how the mailing list works, what steps you take to avoid "address harvesting" and sheer luck. Some online discussion groups post every message on a website, including the full email addresses of the senders. Others allow you to log on with a username and conceal your email address.

If your discussion group displays full email addresses on publicly accessible pages, there are still steps you can take to avoid your inbox being clogged with spam (unwanted advertising messages). For example, Spamgourmet (click here to go to the site) offers disposable email addresses which won't be used for anything but spam. If someone on an online discussion group asks you for your email address, there are ways of telling them that will be understood by a human being but not by a robot crawling the web to harvest addresses. These "spambots " look out for patterns such as firstname.surname@domain.com , so you need to express your email address differently to a person. You might type "My address is Firstname , then a dot, then Surname, then the "at" symbol, then domain dot com." Most spambots will fail to recognize this as an address, but a human will know what you mean.


Since the days of USENET, one of the earliest Internet forums, there has been a set of rules about acceptable behavior on discussion groups. These rules are known as "netiquette". Serious violation of the rules may result in your being banned from a discussion group, while minor violations are irritating and may cause people to ignore your posts. Minor points of netiquette vary from group to group, so always read your group's netiquette guide if it has one, but the main rules remain the same for all discussion groups. Some should hopefully be obvious - don't break the law, don't post obscenities - but others might not be familiar to the novice user. Here are a few of them.

Remember the human . This is the first rule of most netiquette guides, and many other rules stem from it. Some people think that it's acceptable to attack people via the Internet in a way you would never attack them in real life, perhaps because they see it as attacking a computer rather than another human being. The basic rule is never to say anything in a discussion group that you wouldn't say in person.

Read the FAQ . Frequently Asked Questions pages are designed to cut down on the number of repeated questions. There should be an FAQ page on your discussion group's website. If you don't have access to the Web, the moderator of your email mailing list should be able to send you a list of FAQs by email. Posting a frequently asked question to your mailing list will probably result in several people directing you to the FAQ page or mailing you a copy of it, so you might as well read it first.

CAPS ARE SHOUTING . Don't send messages which are all in caps. This is interpreted as shouting.

Don't publicize private mail . If someone sends you a personal email, never forward that message, or any part of it, to a discussion group, without that person's permission. You should also avoid publicizing anyone's email address without permission.

Check spelling and grammar . Incorrect spelling and grammar may make you look lazy, thoughtless or uneducated. Spellcheckers are useful, but they're no substitute for re-reading your message carefully before pressing "send".

Avoid top-posting . Top-posting is when you send a reply that quotes the original text of the message underneath. Programs such as Outlook automatically put the cursor above the message you're replying to, but that doesn't mean it has to stay there. Bottom-posting (putting your reply underneath) or interleaving (replying to someone's message point by point) are much better options. After all, you wouldn't read a webpage from bottom to top, so why should you email that way? If you must top-post, at least make sure to trim the original message so that it only includes the relevant part. Some people get very angry when they receive a 20k message which would have been 1k if only the sender had snipped irrelevant repetitions.

Keep subject headings relevant . If you're changing the subject during a discussion, change the subject heading. It makes it easier for people to find the relevant messages on the archive and in their inboxes. A related point: some people, when they want to post a new message, are too lazy to type the list's email address into a new message, so they find an old email and press "reply" before top-posting what they want to say. This means that everybody on the list gets an email with a completely irrelevant subject heading and a big chunk of irrelevant text underneath. Never do this. It's as confusing as it is infuriating.

There are far too many netiquette rules to list here, but there are plenty of online guides to help you with the finer points of netiquette. However, people who know exactly how to behave online also know that it's unacceptable to be aggressive to others who break those rules. Everybody makes mistakes, and people who make mistakes in online etiquette should be given a gentle reminder and nothing more.