Consider this: During 1997, the Internet delivered more messages than did the U.S. Postal Service--and that load is expected to skyrocket to more than 7 trillion messages annually by the year 2000.

If you already feel swamped by your burgeoning e-mail box, you haven't seen anything yet! Fortunately, there are ways to remedy this situation. The first step: Become computer and Internet literate. Here are some guidelines for e-mail sanity:

The Rules are Different Keep it short--E-mail is substantially different from normal writing. The rules of intricate sentence structure no longer apply. Short is in: short bullet points, short sentences, or short messages in general. Try to keep your messages under 25 lines (about one screen worth of words).

Keep it conversational--Due to its immediacy and ability for quick response, I believe that e-mail should be like conversation. Make your comments informal, lively, colorful, or even funny. Because you are dealing with text only (without the ability to use the gestures common to conversation), use creative punctuation to help convey your meaning. For example: "Please send the contract to me by *Thursday*" puts the emphasis where you want it. You can SHOUT occasionally using CAPS (but do not overdo it because it is impolite to SHOUT!). Finally, emoticons (a.k.a. smileys) help to convey feelings and a sense of informality. The common ones are :-) for happy and :-( for sad, although there are many more at the Web site http://everythingmail.net.

Use meaningful subject lines--Be descriptive. For example: "Meeting space change, XYZ Co., 3/25 meeting" instead of "Changes." If you need an immediate response, write "URGENT: Respond Immediately" in your subject line.

Quote the e-mail you are responding to--Make sure that your response to an e-mail message contains the context of the sender's message. Many e-mail programs have a feature that automatically quotes the sender's message when you hit "reply." Use it, but delete an extended message quote to include just the portion you are addressing.

Be careful who you cc: (copy)--Do you really need to copy your message to "everyone" just because it is cheap and simple to do so? Be careful whose mailbox you may be filling up!

Protect Yourself From Junk E-Mail Break the chain--With its high- speed, cheap broadcast capability, the Internet has assisted in the explosion of cyber chain letters. It is fairly safe to say that any message that asks you to copy it and send it off to everyone you know is a chain or a hoax. Virus alerts are some of the more common hoaxes. They warn that if you open an e-mail message it will erase the data on your hard drive and do all sorts of other nasty things. I have received hundreds of such messages, and all, without exception, are hoaxes. You can't get a virus from opening simple text e-mail. A good Web site that describes the popular virus hoaxes is www.kumite.com. When you receive a hoax e-mail, inform the sender that you are breaking the chain.

Use filters and anti-spam software--Some e-mail readers (the software that allows you to read your e-mail) allow filtering. EudoraPro, for example, will allow you to filter (automatically delete) messages from e-mail addresses that you wish never to hear from again. Other software, such as SpamSlammer (www.spamslammer.com) will look for phrases like "make money fast!!!" in the sender's address and subject line and automatically send the message to a trashcan or sort into a low-priority in-box. This is free software and will work as a plug-in to many of the e-mail readers, such as Netscape Mail, Eudora, Outlook, etc.

Consider multiple e-mail addresses and anonymous e-mail--In the same way that some people protect themselves from unsolicited phones calls by using an unlisted number, consider getting an additional e-mail address that you give out only to your close friends or high-priority contacts. Conversely, if you post messages to public e-mail forums, do not use a priority e-mail address. These forums are often scanned by spammers, who, in turn, send you unsolicited e-mail. If your Internet service provider doesn't provide multiple e-mail addresses, consider a free-mail address offered by Hotmail (www.hotmail.com), Rocketmail (www.rocketmail.com), or Juno (www.juno.com), among others. Those who are super cautious may want to consider anonymous e-mailers that will make the mail you send to any address completely anonymous (www.anonymizer.com).