Email from university departments to members of the community is understood not to be spam. However, it is important to realize that most email users receive plenty of unwanted mail and this potential “guilt by association” with spam can result in legitimate email being ignored, regardless of its origin or importance. This page contains information to help senders manage audience selection, message format and frequency of mailings in order to avoid their messages having the appearance of spam.
Characteristics of spam:
- You didn’t ask for the email
- You don’t know the sender
- The subject line is misleading and isn’t relevant to the content
- You have no interest in the content
- There is no way to get the sender to stop sending you email
An unfamiliar “From” address triggers an immediate suspicion among many users that a message may be spam. To avoid this, we recommend specifying an easily recognized name, e.g., a department name, as the originator of a message instead of a valid but obscure UMass Lowell email address. For example, generic, but descriptive email addresses (firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, etc.) are better than a random person in your office or cryptic acronyms that are university-speak.
Note: All Out of Office and automated response messages will be delivered to the originating address.This can flood the sender’s mailbox with unwelcome responses.
Target audience: Selecting an appropriate audience to receive particular information is an important part of ensuring a message’s effectiveness, so care should be taken to identify a collection of recipients that is neither too narrow, in which case some who should be receiving that information are excluded, nor too broad, which can result in the perception among those erroneously included that the message is irrelevant or, worse, annoying. Segment lists whenever possible to establish who should actually respond/take action that’s indicated in your email. For subsequent emails, exclude those who have already completed the task.
Generating lists of recipients: All university emails should be sent from institutionally generated recipient lists whenever possible. University lists are frequently created and/or updated; sometimes refreshed on a daily or weekly schedule. Locally managed lists can fall out of date if they are not diligently maintained. If custom lists or listservs are used, recipient should be given the option to unsubscribe.
Frequency: If an audience perceives that it is receiving unsolicited messages too often from a particular source, the effectiveness of those messages may be reduced. In general, frequency of mailings should be determined by the messages’ relevance and importance to the recipients. Alerts or warnings, for example, would merit higher frequency messages than would notices of a more general nature. In general, audiences should not receive email from a particular office more than once a week, and not receive multiple emails about the same topic without consideration given to an entire communication plan.
Use powerful subject lines: Create subject lines as a clear, concise description of the email. Include a call to action in the subject line, if possible, such as “Register Now” or “Documentation Required.”
- Emails should only be sent if they require an action on the part of the recipient.
- Don’t use acronyms or jargon. Put emails in plain English and make clear what you expect the recipient to do.
- Provide contact information clearly, especially if the email is sent from an unmonitored mailbox. When possible, provide a name and phone number.
- Do not send attachments, but instead include links to pdfs, websites, videos, etc. Attachments can include viruses and are often flagged as spam.
- Do not include images, unless they have been created according to accessibility guidelines (see www.uml.edu/web-accessibility). Email is a verbal tool. Images can burden systems (because of size and formatting). If recipients don’t download images they may miss essential information and those using assistive technology (screen readers, for example) will not have access to the information if it is not created properly.
- Do not use underscores or text color to highlight information. Underscored text universally indicates a hyperlink. Colored text is not visible to all people. Instead use bold, etc.
Email messages should be no more than a few reasonably short paragraphs in length. Concise messages are typically much more effective than long notes that contain a lot of detail. When it is necessary to communicate a large amount of information, send a brief message that includes the main point(s) and a reference to a web page that contains the bulk of the detail. This is preferable to a multi-page email and, because web pages allow the use of graphics and formatted text, information presentation is potentially simpler and more powerful.
Inclusion of web page addresses (URLs)
Specify no more than one or two URLs. If an email message refers to information on more than one web page, best practice is to specify a single, top-level URL in the message. The page referred to can in turn point to the other pages, as required. This simplifies navigation for the message recipient and makes it easier for them to refer back to the web information later.
URLs that link directly to login pages are strictly prohibited. Any links to resources that would normally require login must first link to an informational page that contains the link to the resource. From there users can click the link to be directed to the login screen.
Complete web addresses should not appear in emails. Instead, contextual hyperlinks should be used. This not only increases readability, it also increases accessibility for recipients using screen readers or other assistive devices. For example, an email should refer to Tuition and Fees website
rather than https://www.uml.edu/thesolutioncenter/bill/tuition-fees/
. While most email programs recognize a URL as a link to a web page, some have difficulty handling long addresses that span more than one message line. This forces some recipients to cut and paste the page address into their Internet browser, a sometimes tedious process, especially from a mobile device.
When hyperlinking, the link address should include “http://” or “https://”. This is suggested because not all email programs recognize addresses that do not contain “http://” as web addresses. Adding the HTTP prefix ensures that most email programs will correctly interpret the address. For example, use https://www.uml.edu/engineering instead of www.uml.edu/engineering when hyperlinking.
Hyperlink the call to action if appropriate, such as “Pay Your Bill
Images and HTML formatting
Do not include images, unless they have been created according to accessibility guidelines. Images can burden the email systems due to size and formatting. If recipients don’t download images, they may miss essential information and those using assistive technology, such as screen readers, will not have access to the information if it is not created properly. Avoid sending attachments by using links to more information. Attachments can include viruses and are often flagged as spam. They are also difficult to read on mobile devices.
Messages should be formatted with official UMass Lowell branding, when possible. Footers can be generated at using our email signature app