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Mailing List Tidbits

by Cyndi Howell's (

A "listowner" maintains a mailing list. The listowner is usually the person who originally established the list and determined the purpose of the list and any rules associated with it. The listowner also helps those who need help to subscribe and unsubscribes from the list successfully.

Messages sent to mailing lists are forwarded via e-mail to a software program, which then distributes a copy of the message to each of the subscribers on that list.

There are at least two different e-mail addresses associated with each mailing list. The first address is used for sending "subscribe" and "unsubscribe" commands by e-mail. The second address is used to send e-mail messages to all of the other subscribers on the mailing list. Pay close attention to the differences between these two e-mail addresses, so that you know you are using the right address for the proper function.

Most mailing lists have two versions: mail mode and digest mode. Mail mode is for individual messages to be delivered one at a time to each subscriber. Digest mode is for several messages to be delivered to each subscriber in one message.

After you successfully subscribe to a mailing list you will receive a welcome message with details on how that particular list works. Keep a copy of the welcome message.

These suggestions apply to mailing lists and are also good rules for regular e-mail correspondence. The last thing in the world you want to do is inadvertently offend someone who has the essential information you need.

Read the subscription (subscribe and unsubscribe) instructions carefully and follow them exactly. Don't pester the listowner for personal help. Try subscribing and unsubscribing at least five times before you ask for help. You can do it! Read -- don't skim -- the welcome message, FAQ, Web page or any other information sent to you regarding the mailing list and how it works. The rules do apply to you. Follow them.

After joining a mailing list, "lurk" (read, do not respond) for a while. Use the correct e-mail address when posting or replying to messages. If you want to reply to someone privately, be sure you are not replying to the entire list. Look at the "TO:" window in your e-mail before you hit that "REPLY" button.

Do not send "test" messages to mailing lists. (Mailing lists work; you don't have to "test" them.)

Never return an entire letter, message, or newsletter to the sender or to the mailing list. Check the automatic functions on your e-mail program to avoid this. Turn that function off.

Do not post any inappropriate messages to a list.

Do not use your signature file if it contains long lists of surnames, or your favorite sayings, etc., and always turn it off before you attempt to subscribe or unsubscribe from a mail list.

Do not send file attachments to mailing lists. Do not send or forward junk mail or virus warnings to a mailing list. See: Internet Stuff You Need to Know at (

Do not cross-post the same message to numerous mailing lists.

Do not post personal information about yourself or living family members to any mailing lists.

When responding to queries, quote your sources precisely. Indicate titles of books, Web site addresses, library names or any other reference you have used.


If you decide to reply to a question on a mailing list, determine whether it will be of general interest to all subscribers. If not, send a private e-mail to the person who posted the question.

Do not post personal replies or thank-you messages to a mailing list. Send these messages directly to the individual.

When replying to a message found on a mailing list digest, do not repeat the entire text of the original message with your reply. Repeat only enough text from the original message that is necessary to clarify your reply or to remind the recipient about the original topic.


Mailing lists are like genealogical societies or any group of people -- composed of many different types of personalities. Remember that misunderstandings can happen easily, as it is impossible to convey body language via e-mail. Avoid topics and discussions that may be controversial in nature.

Do not participate in name-calling or other "flaming."

Do not assume anything. Clarify all statements before you react.

Be patient with all "newbies" to a mailing list. Remember that we all had to start somewhere!

The Internet is a global community; therefore be tolerant of others who use English, French, or any language differently than you do. Watch your slang and acronyms. Language that is readily understood and socially acceptable in the United States or Australia might be incomprehensible or even embarrassing to your British, Canadian, or German cousins.


Sign your e-mail with your name and e-mail address. Not all e-mail software automatically provides this information in the headers. Make it easy on your cousins, so they can contact you.

Give a mailing list a fair chance to prove useful. Don't be discouraged if a list is low in traffic or if there are lulls in the conversations. Hang around on a list for a while before you decide to quit. Remember it is a two-way street. Don't ask what all you can GET from a list -- offer to GIVE something.

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