Information Technology Services
Information Technology Services

Getting Started:  Tips for New List Owners

Purpose: This document is written for the new List Owner, and for the experienced List Owner, who is ready to start using a Mailing List for the first time. Many of these recommendations can be applied to existing mailing lists.

Assumption: This document assumes that you have read the Procedure for Creating Mailing Lists at Queen's University and that you understand the applicable policies and your responsibilities as List Owner. If you do not, you are responsible for asking questions for clarification before you send that first email message to your mailing list.

ITS recommends the following tips and good practices for managing Mailing Lists.

  • Before you add subscribers to your mailing list without their knowledge or permission, remember that the sending of unsolicited mass email, where the "Sender" does not have the appropriate working relationship with recipients, is a violation of the Computer User Code of Ethics. Refresh your reading of the ITS Mass Email Communication Policy for Queen's University.

    The appropriate use for Mailing Lists where the List Owner does not have the appropriate working relationship with the subscribers (e.g., Supervisor, Manager, Instructor, Dept Head, Dean, etc.) he or she wants to add to the list is to use "Opt-in" methods of subscription, i.e., ask permission first, advertise your list, put a link to the subscription web page on your department web page.

  • Create A Welcome Message before adding subscribers to your mailing list. A Welcome Message is automatically sent to new subscribers you add to your mailing list. It should contain the following information: 1) Purpose of the Mailing List, 2) Why they have been added to the list (if an unsolicited subscription), 3) How much email they can expect, 4) Who can send messages, 5) Posting policy/rules (for discussion lists), 6) Who to contact with problems (your contact information), and 5) How to suspend email or signoff the mailing list.

    If you do not use a Welcome Message, all subscribers will receive is the "generic" notice that they have been added to a mailing list. This can be a source of annoyance if their subscription is unsolicited. If you add subscribers "Quietly" so that no notice is sent, please use the recommendation below.

  • The first email message sent to a new mailing list should clearly tell subscribers why they are receiving your email. This contains the information in the "Welcome Message" explained above, only it is sent as the first message if you added subscribers "Quietly".

    If you just start posting messages, with no explanation, you will receive in reply many of the following questions/statements: "Why am I getting this email? Why am I on this mailing list? Remove me from this list!"  If you set up your list to allow subscribers to post messages, complaints can escalate very rapidly.

  • Set Up Archives for your mailing list and if appropriate, allow subscribers the opportunity to set their subscription to NOMAIL and read and reply to information on your mailing list via the web interface.

    If your mailing list is very busy with messages that do not require immediate attention, this will prevent your mailing list from filling up already full mailboxes.

  • Change your list settings for replies to messages posted to your mailing lists. The most frequently reported problem with mailing lists that subscribers find very annoying are the many replies to messages that simply say, "I agree", "Me too!", "Thank you", or content that otherwise should have never been sent to everyone on the list.

    This occurs because people do not look at the "To:" field of email to see who they are sending email to. They only look up at the "To:" field when they are typing in an email address to send a message. This is done whether they are on a mailing list or whether they are replying to personal email someone sent them. This takes training and asking people to "think" and develop the habit of looking at the screen to see where email is being sent to. On the majority of mailing lists, email replies are addressed back to the mailing list. Helpful settings that may assist with this problem are as follows:

         Reply-To= Sender,Respect
         Reply-To= Sender,Ignore

    List Owners can set people who have a difficult time developing this habit to REVIEW. This is a subscription distribution option that the List Owner can set for individuals and avoids the daunting task of setting up and approving all posting to your mailing list. Another alternative is to set up mailing list "moderation" on a fully edited list and rotate posting approvals.

    Note: All of the above settings can be found in the List Owners Manual.

  • Become familiar with the policies that govern list operation and List Owner responsibilities. Such policies for Queen's are located off the Mailing Lists Services page and are available for anyone to view.

  • Be prepared to deal with possible issues of etiquette and conflict on discussion mailing lists in a fair and consistent way. As the List Owner, you are the person subscribers will look to for solving problems. Much of what one might call email manners, Listserv etiquette or netiquette is simply common sense conduct that applies to any situation where a group of people come together to discuss a topic of interest.

Here are some simple guidelines for users of mailing lists:

  • Observe or follow a list for a while before jumping in
  • Don't send or reply to email in anger
  • If you only want to ask a question check and see if the list has archives of previously asked questions.
  • In case of problems, without exception, contact the List Owner of your mailing list. The List Owner of a mailing list is in charge of the list.

In general, misunderstandings among subscribers can occur on any discussion list. Mailing lists bring together a collection of individuals with different personalities, from different cultures, who often have very different ways of communicating ideas that they personally feel strongly about. In the electronic medium it is very easy to misinterpret a comment as sarcastic or offensive -- especially if you are already having a bad day! -- when no such message was intended by the original sender. This situation can be nipped in the bud by the List Owner with a quick note to the list before a situation escalates. Encouraging members to be respectful of the ideas of others, even though they may not be ideas they personally agree with, will go a long way in avoiding conflicts.

For questions about specific difficulties, please follow the instructions in the document How To Get Help