Using Email

Electronic mail or Email is used to send messages between people just like using a letter and Royal Mail. You use Email by typing a message on a computer and then sending it via the Internet to anyone for whom you have an Email Address. So you don't have to buy stamps or walk to the post box!!

There are two basic ways of accessing email from your computer:
  1. Using an email client. An email client is a program on your computer which accesses and manages your emails on your behalf. It needs to be set up to access your email account initially but once that is done, it will automatically connect to your account to receive or send messages. This approach offers the advantages of managing and storing your email on your own computer.
  2. Using webmail. If you use webmail you typically connect to your email account via the website of your email provider. This approach offers the advantages of allowing you to access your email account from any computer which is connected to the Internet. However its disadvantage is that all your messages are stored on a remote computer.

Email Addresses

You first need your own Email Address. Your Internet Service Provider should provide you with the means to set one up. These will normally be of the form: myname@sky.net or yourname@btinternet.com. Alternatively you can set up an email address using an independent provider such as Outlook (previously known as Hotmail) or Gmail who provide free email services. Note that when you create an email address it needs to be unique so if your name is, for example, John Smith you might find that email address is already allocated and you need to make it unique perhaps by adding a middle name or a number. You will also need a password to protect your email from misuse. Choose one with a combination of numbers and both upper and lower case letters for maximum security.

Receiving mail

When you receive an email it goes into your Inbox. Having read an email you can delete it or you can keep it to refer back to at a later date. Rather than keeping all your emails in the Inbox you can organise them into folders so that you can keep emails relating to specific subjects together and so avoid having them all piled up in your Inbox. (Some email systems refer to "labels" instead of "folders".)

If someone sends you an attachment with an email, eg a photo or text document, you can either just view the content (usually by just clicking on it) or you can download it on to your computer and save it to view or read at your leisure. Be aware though that attachments are a favourite way of introducing malicious viruses on to your computer so be careful and only open attachments from someone you know and trust. Since people's email addresses can be hijacked to spread malicious viruses, be very wary about any unexpected or unusual email even if they appear to come from someone you know. If in doubt, delete the email without opening the attachment.

Sending messages

You can create your own email message and send it to one or more people. Just enter as many email addresses into the "To" field as you want to send the message to. When you send an email a copy is stored in your Sent folder. Your sent messages can also be deleted or moved into folders if you wish to keep them permanently.

Contact list

You can keep a Contact List of people to whom you send emails and then use this to add addresses to your email. An email can be sent to as many people as you wish. Just add new names to your email either from your Contact List or by typing them in.

Replying to and forwarding messages

You can reply to an email which has been sent to you by clicking "Reply" and then typing in your message. If instead of "Reply" you choose "Reply All" then your reply will be sent to everyone who was a recipient of the original email.

You can also forward a message to other people by clicking "Forward" and then typing in your message. When forwarding a message, you can delete any information from the original mail, for example a long list of addressees, by highlighting the text you want to delete and then pressing "Delete" on your keyboard.

Attaching files and photos

You can attach files to an email. The file could be any file stored on your computer including photos which you want to share with people. Be careful though when sending photos. Their size might make the message very large and large messages take a long time to download. Some email providers will also restrict the size of messages.

The method of attaching a file to a message will depend on the email system you are using. Look for words like"Attach" or "Insert" or look for a symbol which looks like a paper clip.

Website links in messages

People may send you a link to a website in an email. To access the website simply click on the link. However be cautious about visiting websites if you receive an email which you were not expecting as this is one way people try to steal information such as bank account details. 

If you want to insert a link into an email that you send, eg send a link to a recipe you have found, then this is easy to do but the way to do it will depend on which email service you are using so a bit of trial and error may be needed.

Junk mail

Email providers try to prevent junk mail being sent. They check various criteria and if they think that a message may be junk mail, then they will divert it to your junk mail folder so that you can check it and decide whether or not to accept it.

Exercises

To practice using emails, log into your own email account if you have one. If you don't have one why not create one for yourself now using Hotmail or Gmail. If you want to send a test message you can send one to Over50IT_1@hotmail.co.uk which is an email account we have created purely for training. Add that address to your Contact List and also create a folder called "Computer Group" and move your sent mail and any reply to that folder.

Another interesting exercise might be to send yourself an email containing a link to this website. You could then access that email at home and click on the link which would bring you straight back to this website.