TechTip: Separate Valuable Email from Spam

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People inundated with spam often only skim email header lines. Here's a way to use Outlook 2002 (part of Microsoft Office XP) to reduce the chance of inadvertently discarding important emails buried in the spam:

1. Select "Tools" and then "Rules Wizard ..." from the Outlook menu.

2. Click "New ...."

3. Click "Start from a blank rule."

4. Select "Check messages when they arrive" and click "Next >."

5. From the list of conditions, select "sender is in specified address book." If you often get valid emails from previously unknown people in a particular company, also check "with specific words in the sender's address."

6. If you checked "with specific words in the sender's address" then, in the box that contains just your selected conditions, click "specific words." In the pop-up dialog, type any domains that you deal with extensively. Separate multiple domains with commas. For example, "," Click "Add."

7. In the box containing your selected conditions, click "selected." Select your Outlook address book from the pop-up menu and click "Add."

8. Click "Next >."

9. Select "assign it to the category category."

10. In the box that now contains your selected conditions and action, click "category." Select one of the default categories or create a new one by clicking "Master Category List...," entering a new category name (such as "approved senders"), and clicking "Add." After selecting an existing or new category, click "OK."

11. Click "Next >."

12. Click "Next >" again.

13. Give your new rule a name, such as "approved senders." Select "Run this rule now on the messages already in 'Inbox'." Make sure that "Turn this rule on" is selected (the default). Then click "Finish."

Once you have done this, everything currently in your in-box and everything that arrives in the future from someone in your Outlook address book or from someone using one of the domains that you specified will be assigned to the selected category. Unfortunately, this does absolutely nothing to change the appearance of those email message header lines. To do so, you also need to adjust automatic formatting:

1. From Outlook's "View" drop-down menu, call up the "Current view" submenu and select "Customize Current View...."

2. Click "Automatic Formatting...."

3. Click "Add" in the pop-up dialog box.

4. Give your new format a name and click "Font...."

5. In the font dialog box, select a distinctive color (red stands out) and click "OK."

6. Click "Condition...."

7. Click the "More Choices" tab and then the "Categories..." button.

8. In the pop-up dialog, select the appropriate category and click "OK."

9. Finally, click "OK" to dismiss the "filter" dialog, "OK" again to dismiss the "automatic filtering" dialog, and "OK" again to dismiss the "view summary" dialog.

Now, everything from a known acceptable sender will appear in your inbox in the color you selected. Of course, as the author embarrassingly discovered after receiving his first email from the editor of this publication, that doesn't save you from inadvertently discarding important messages from people who you do not yet know. If anyone can figure that one out, please post your suggestion in the accompanying forum.

Note: The author uses Outlook 2002. This tip may not work on other versions. In addition, Outlook 2003 includes a built-in spam filter, which may make this tip superfluous. Readers are encouraged to share their knowledge of other versions in the accompanying forum.

Joel Klebanoff is a consultant, writer, and president of Klebanoff Associates, Inc., a Toronto, Canada-based marketing communications firm. Joel has 25 years experience working in IT, first as a programmer/analyst, then as a marketer. He holds a Bachelor of Science in computer science and an MBA, both from the University of Toronto. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (no spam please).