Creating, sending, and receiving email

Last week we began our exploration of Apple’s Mail application. Having read through that lesson, you’re familiar with the makeup of the Mail window. This week we’ll turn from geography to communication—creating, sending, and retrieving email. Taking it from the top ...

The New Message window

Click the toolbar’s New Message button, or press Command-N, and the New Message window appears. It has its own toolbar that contains, by default, the following buttons: Send Message, Attach Document, Show Format Bar, Show/Hide Photo Browser, and Show/Hide Stationery Pane. Like Mail’s toolbar, this one is also customizable. Just Control-click (right-click) the toolbar, choose Customize Toolbar, and from the sheet that appears drag the tools you want to the toolbar. From this moment forward, those buttons will appear in every New Message window (or at least until you hold down the Command key and drag them out). We’ll explore these buttons further later in the lesson.

The top portion of the New Message window.

Below the toolbar are the To, Cc, and Subject fields. They shake out this way.

The To field: This is where you enter the email addresses of those you wish to send the message to. You can do this in a couple of ways. The first is to simply click in the field and type the address—, for instance. To enter multiple email addresses in this manual way, place a comma after each recipient (except the last one, of course).

The To field also supports autofill, meaning that if the person you’re intending to send a message to is in your list of contacts or you’ve received a message from this person in the not-too-distant past, all you have to do is start typing their name and a list of matching contacts will appear. Select the one you want, press Return, and the complete address will appear in the field.

Alternatively you can expose the Address panel (select Window > Address Panel or press Command-Option-A) and double-click on contacts you want to add. (If the contact has more than one email address, double-click the one you want to use.) If you’d like to add a group, it’s the same idea—double-click on the group to add all its members who have email addresses to the To field. (Stay tuned for a tip on why you might not want to do this.) To remove a recipient from the To field, just select the email address and press the Mac’s Delete key.

Use the Address panel to add recipients.

The Cc field: Seasoned readers will know that Cc stands for Courtesy Copy (some also refer to it as Carbon Copy) and is the email way of indicating “This message isn’t really directed at you, but it’s something you should be aware of.” You might, for example, use the To field for people you’re collaborating with on a work project and Cc the boss so she’s aware of your progress.

Before we get to the Subject field, here’s that promised tip about the To and Cc fields. There will be times when it’s unwise to use either. Suppose, for example, you’ve composed a somewhat delicate message with 25 recipients. If you place those 25 addresses in the To field (or split some of them out to the Cc field), everyone who receives that message is now aware of every email address you’ve exposed. This can be a Bad Thing, because some people prefer that such an address not be shared with every Tom, Dick, and Mary you know.

The Bcc field: It’s for this reason that the Bcc (Blind Courtesy Copy) field exists. Any addresses placed in the Bcc field are not exposed to your recipients. A helpful technique many people use is to put their own address in the To field (because you have to put something there) and place all other addresses in the Bcc field.

And where is this alleged field? Just choose View > Bcc Address Field (or press Command-Option-B), and it will appear below the Cc field. Once you’ve enabled this option, Bcc will appear in every New Message window you create.

The Subject field: Every message you send should have a Subject field. And, as its name implies, this field is where you put a word or short phrase that describes what your message is about.

When composing a subject try to avoid generic words and phrases such as “Hi!” “How’s it going?” or “You’ve Won 8 Million Dollars!!!!” Part of this is simple courtesy. Some people receive a lot of email and its helpful to them to know whether your message is worth reading immediately or not. Also, the least-discerning spam filters will often flag such messages as junk because of their commonly-used-by-spammers subjects. (The better grade of spam filters will look at the message body as well, so you won’t always lose such messages.)

The From menu: If you have multiple email accounts configured in Mail, you can choose which account to send from via this menu. Why? Suppose you have both work and personal email accounts configured on your Mac. For work-related messages you’ll want to send from your work address. For messages complaining to your friends about your work, you’ll use your personal address.

The Customize menu: To the left of the From pop-up menu is the Customize menu. Click it and you have options for showing or hiding the Cc, Bcc, Reply-To, and Priority fields. As I explained when discussing Bcc, once you enable one of these fields, it will appear in every New Message window. When you choose Customize from this menu, the top of the New Message window expands and shows you every possible field. Tick the checkbox next to those fields that you always want to see when composing a new message.

The Reply-To field: Like Bcc, this is another field that’s hidden by default. There may be times when you want to send a message from one account, but receive any replies to it with a different account. For example, you’ve sent a message from your iCloud account but want replies to go to your Gmail account. Place your Gmail account’s address in the Reply-To field, and when people receiving your message press Reply, their messages will be sent to that Gmail account.

The Priority menu: It’s possible to mark messages you create as Low, Normal, or High priority using this menu. Recipients will see your message marked with two exclamation marks (!!) if it’s sent as high priority.

A word of caution about assigning a priority to messages. If all of your messages are high priority, none of them are. And by that I mean that you should save high priority for only those occasions when something is really, really important—as in, we’re-all-going-to-be-fired-if-you-don’t-reply-immediately or Timmy-fell-down-the-well important. Mark each of your kid’s softball game announcements or an entirely uninteresting press release as high priority, and the people you communicate with will learn to ignore your messages. In short: Don’t cry wolf.

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