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Rules on mass mailing

This sets out the University's rules on sending mass mailouts, using mass mailing software or mailing lists.

Sections in this document

  1. Background
  2. General guidelines
  3. Practical guidelines
  4. Software for mass mailings

1. Background

Email is a cheap and efficient way of communicating with University members, but many are concerned about the amount of unwanted email they receive, and the University's ICTC Regulations forbid the transmission, without proper authorisation, of e-mail to a large number of recipients, unless those recipients have indicated an interest in receiving such e-mail.

There are obviously circumstances in which it is necessary and appropriate that administrative information is sent to all members, or to defined subsets, and the Information and Communications Technology Committee has laid out guidelines under which this may be done.

As well as mailings to thousands of people, similar consideration needs to be applied when mailing to say 20 people, and the guidelines in section 3 should still be followed.

There is a restriction on the Oxmails which prohibits sending more than 200 messages in the one transaction - to overcome this, you need to use a mailing list or specialized mass mailing software which splits up the transaction into individual messages- see section 4 below.

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2. General guidelines

The use of mass emailing is restricted to important matters where this means of communication is considered to be both appropriate and necessary to reach the required audience. Details of less important matters such as conferences, events, etc. should be published by other means, such as notice boards or opt-in mailing lists.

Mass mailings to all members, or to general subsets, eg those defined by staff category, may only be sent by the University central administration. This will include the Vice Chancellor's Office, the Registrar's Department, and the Council Secretariat. Other bodies that may send information relating to their particular areas include Student Administration and Payroll.

Information particular to members of a particular division, faculty etc may be sent with the authority of the Head of Division or Faculty.

Departments responsible for facilities, services, etc, may send information about those services to those who use the services.

Mass mailings create a large amount of network traffic, delay other email, and result in thousands of copies of the same material being stored on servers across the University. To limit the impact, messages should be as short as possible, and sent as plain text - not as a Word attachment. If a large amount of information is to be conveyed, or special layout is required, the message should simply contain information about where the full text can be viewed on the web.

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3. Practical guidelines

All bulk email messages should contain the following information:

  • subject line: with clearly stated subject
  • from: line that contains the email address of sender which must be a valid address. To be used to collect failures.
  • reply to: optional, which is the preferred address for a reply.
  • to: email address or list being sent to
  • content line that includes University group/s to which the mass email is being sent
  • signature information with identifiable information about the sender
  • instructions for the recipient to request not to get such mail
  • do not use Cc which will reveal email address of other recipients

Email should:

  • be text only - this will enable your message to be read by the widest number of devices eg mobile phones, Linux machines, and does not assume the reader has access to the same software you used to create the message
  • be less than approx 200 words - if longer than two paragraphs, put the details on a web page and send the url in the message
  • not contain attachments
  • be targeted to the people who are likely to be interested in the content eg students for exam instructions, women for a 'women only' course, congregation for voting, freshers for fresher events - people get very angry if they receive inappropriate mail especially from 'official' bodies

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4. Software for mass mailings

Most mail clients will let you add additional people as a Bcc: ( Blind carbon copy) or set up a distribution list. This is suitable for a up to 50 or so addresses.

Try a mailing list such as Sympa: any university member, except undergraduates, can request a mailing list. Sympa will remove addresses which fail, which can help in the management of your list.

Specialized software is available commercially which can:

  • customize your message eg Dear Fred Smith
  • let you send to any number of recipients
  • allow you to customize the sending address, eg. enquiries@food.ox.ac.uk, director@food.ox.ac.uk
  • specify a different address to receive failures
  • remove failed email addresses

The following are some examples of specialized software - no endorsement is made.

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