Creating, sending, and receiving email

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Composing messages

Finally, to the message body—that large area at the bottom of the New Message window that begs to be filled. You could, of course, simply click in this area and start typing, but there are more interesting ways to fill this void. To see what I mean, let’s return to the toolbar.

Attach Document: This first button is one way to send one or more files along with your message. Click it and a navigation sheet appears, which you use to choose the documents that will be bundled with your message.

Attachments appear inline, meaning that rather than displaying attachments in some kind of field, they appear in the message body. Image and media files display a preview, whereas other kinds of documents—Microsoft Word or Apples Pages files, for example—appear as document icons. This inline business doesn’t affect how your recipients will see the attachments. Rather, the configuration of their email client determines how attachments are displayed.

You don’t have to use the Attach Document button to add attachments. If you like, just drag attachments into the message body from the Finder.

Also, be aware of the size of your attachments. It’s not unusual for messages that total more than 10MB to be blocked by one of the Internet service providers responsible for delivering it. If you have large files to send to someone, find another avenue such as Dropbox or SugarSync for sharing those files.

Show Format Bar: By default, new mail messages are formatted as rich text. Rich text can be formatted using different fonts, sizes, colors, and justification, much like you’d format text in a word processor. Plain text is exactly that—no italics, boldface, or colors.

Speaking of rich text, your message will be more readable (and look more professional) if you keep the formatting to a minimum. Including colored text and 18 different fonts was cool in 1998, but we’ve moved on. Keep it simple and tasteful.

Show/Hide Photo Browser: Want quick access to your iPhoto library so you can easily attach an image? Click this button, and an Image Browser window appears that includes the contents of your iPhoto library arranged by events, photos, faces, places, and albums you’ve created. (If you’re using Apple’s Aperture, its library will appear here as well, as do the images you’ve captured with Photo Booth.) Browse to the images you desire and drag them into the message body.

Show/Hide Stationery Pane: Apple’s Mail includes stationery templates much like Pages includes templates for creating newsletters and business correspondence. Click this button and you find six stationery categories—Favorites, Birthday, Announcement, Photos, Stationery, and Sentiments. Within the latter five categories are a number of options—Dinner Party and Baby in the Announcements category, for example. Select one, and the template appears in the message body, complete with boilerplate text and, in some cases, images.

Stationery is pretty, but not always appropriate

Just edit this text to personalize it, drag in images to replace those of the lovely models, and send. How your recipients see these messages depends on the configuration of their email clients. Some will see everything inline as intended, while others will receive the stationery as an attachment.

Another warning regarding taste: For certain kinds of correspondence, these templates may be a little too cute or casual. Be sure your recipient will appreciate them.

Receiving email

Now that you’ve propelled your thoughts into the world, there’s every chance that you’ll receive replies to them. Let’s look at getting the messages that are rightfully yours.

When we talked about the anatomy of the Mail window, I told you that you could check for email any time you liked just by clicking the Get New Mail button on the left side of the Mail window’s toolbar. (Or by clicking and holding on the dock’s Mail icon and choosing Get New Mail.) While this gives you absolute control over when you receive your email, it can keep you from dealing with important messages in a timely manner. Email pros choose, instead, to automatically receive messages on a regular schedule.

You configure that schedule by choosing Mail > Preferences (Command-comma) and clicking the resulting window’s General tab. In this window, you’ll spy the Check For New Messages pop-up menu. From this menu you can choose to check for new mail every 1, 5, 15, 30, or 60 minutes. Or you can choose to receive email only when you issue the Get New Mail command.

Use the General preference to choose how often Mail checks for new messages.

With one of these automatic options configured, Mail will do its duty and grab what new email is available. Unless you’ve configured your account to file messages in some other way (a subject we’ll visit in an upcoming column), your new messages will appear in the inbox in the Messages pane. Mail needn’t be the frontmost application to receive email, but it has to be running.

When you receive new messages, by default you’ll hear a new message sound and the Mail icon in the dock will bounce. You’ll also see a badge in that icon’s top-right corner indicating the number of unread messages in your inbox.

Click the inbox and, as I explained in the last lesson, you’ll see a list of your messages in the Messages pane. New messages are marked with a blue dot. Any messages colored orange are considered by Mail to be junk. Select a message, and its contents will appear in the Message Viewer area.

To reply to a message you’ve received, click the Reply button in the toolbar or press Command-R. If a message was sent to multiple recipients you may be tempted to choose Reply All instead. I will now shout a bit on this subject:


I’ll refer you to my Mac 911 story, Ending Reply All annoyances for the details, but the general idea is this. If some ill-informed person has sent out a message to everyone he or she knows—a “Welcome aboard!” message to a new employee or an invitation to the Keggling Club’s Hummus Cook-Off—clicking Reply All will just further jam up these poor schmoes’ inboxes. If you have something to say to the sender, do it singularly by clicking Reply rather than Reply All.

This may seem obvious and nothing other than good manners, but you’d be amazed at the number of allegedly “professional” people who hit Reply All without a second thought. Avoid this trap, and you’re well on your way to being a model citizen of the Internet.

Next week: Creating Mail rules

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