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Education And Debate

Guide to the Internet: Electronic mail

BMJ 1995; 311 doi: (Published 02 December 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;311:1487
  1. Mark Pallen, senior lecturera
  1. aDepartment of Medical Microbiology, St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical College, London EC1A 7BE
  1. Correspondence to:

    Electronic mail (email) has many advantages over other forms of communication: it is easy to use, free of charge, fast, and delivers information in a digital format. As a text only medium, email is usually less formal in style than conventional correspondence and may contain acronyms and other features, such as smileys, that are peculiar to the Internet. Email client programs that run on your own microcomputer render email powerful and easy to use. With suitable encoding methods, email can be used to send any kind of computer file, including pictures, sounds, programs, and movies. Numerous biomedical electronic mailing lists and other Internet services are accessible by email.

    Electronic mail, or email, is the transmission of text based messages between networked computers. Email was one of the earliest and most basic resources on the Internet and in many ways it still acts as the lowest common denominator for computer communications. Many computers that cannot access other Internet services can still exchange email with machines on the Internet.

    Why use email?

    Several studies have stressed the beneficial effects of communication by email in medical, nursing, and other settings.1 2 3 4 5 Indeed, email has many advantages over other methods of communication:

    • It is faster than conventional mail (or “snailmail”), usually reaching its destination in minutes, even when sent from the United Kingdom to North America or Australia.

    • It requires less physical effort than sending a letter by snailmail, as there is no need to buy stamps or envelopes or for a trip to the postbox

    • Once the hardware, software, and Internet connection are in place, email on the Internet is free, even if messages are sent to the other side of the world

    • Unlike communication by telephone, email does not require the attention of both parties at the same time—so doctors and …

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