Do you panic after you hit “send” on a work email? There are so many different kinds of email mistakes out there, from unfortunate typos to confusing messaging. Worst of all, there’s the sinking feeling that you’re spending too much of your valuable time writing drafts and not enough time getting your work done.
If this sounds familiar, it might help to know that you’re not the only one struggling. Plenty of professionals make email faux pas every day — but you don’t have to worry for one workday longer. Learn how to avoid email mistakes, starting with your next reply.
Relax, You’re Not the Only One Making Email Mistakes
According to a recent survey by Grammarly.com, “Almost nobody is confident about sending perfect emails: 93 percent of respondents said they make regular email faux pas. Only 7 percent were bold enough to select ‘My emails are flawless.'”
Even the most experienced of us can get nervous as we get ready to send an email.
Here’s how to set yourself up for success:
- Create a clear email signature to be included in your emails. This should include your full name, job title, office location (if applicable), office phone and yes, your email address again.
- Make sure you’re emailing the right person. You have a running joke, like Reddit user Tavataar did with a coworker, but one day you send the wrong person that funny email, much to your embarrassment. Take a second and make sure you’re sending your email to the right person. Better yet, don’t send anything via email that you wouldn’t print out and hang over your desk.
“Well, I decided this morning would be a good time to email him “just had an amazing poo. thought you should know.” However, I accidentally send this to a different contact with the same first name who happens to be the lead game designer at a local company where I interviewed a couple of years ago.”
– Reddit user Tavataar
- Make sure you’re cc’ing the right people, too. This seems like a no-brainer, but we often get stuck in a loop of mindlessly cc-ing our boss. This could make it harder for your boss to know which emails really need their attention — which will be bad news, the next time you need their help.
- Take a moment to ask yourself: Do I need to email this information? If you’re just emailing to make sure everyone knows you’re still around, you might want to take a step back. Don’t be the noise — be the music!
Don’t Forget Your Personality
Use humor to help you share your human side, especially when you’re asking someone to do something they don’t want to do.
“Even when you’re communicating something very important, adding humor to your writing can put someone at ease and make them feel more comfortable approaching or processing the information,” writes Grammarly co-founder Alex Shevchenko in Fast Company. “Humor imbues much—if not most—of our communication, both internal and external.”
Take a Moment to Check Your Tone
Tone of voice is something your parents probably hammered home a time or two when you were a snappy teenager — “It’s not what you say but how you say it.” And in email, tone can be hard to convey, or at least harder than in a live conversation. So it pays to take a step back before you send that email and re-read what you’ve written.
“Misunderstood tone usually just results in some mild awkwardness,” writes corporate communications director Karen Lachtanski at Entrepreneur. “But at worst, it can damage a professional relationship.”
- How are you greeting the person? Is it curt or too short? Did you spell their name correctly? (Get it wrong, and they might conclude that you don’t care.)
- How do you state the reason for your email? Are you alerting them to a mistake they made? Are you pointing out a few good things and one correction they need to make next time?
- How do you word action items? Are you telling them what they did that was wrong? Or are you offering solutions to a problem at hand?
- Use active instead of passive voice. Use passive voice, and you may come across as robotic or bureaucratic. (Passive voice = “Focus group testing was completed on Thursday.” Active voice = “We completed focus group testing on Thursday.”)
- End it with some action items — with deadlines. Instead of leaving it up to the recipient(s) to infer what should happen next, lay out a plan. Try offering up a time frame, too, so you’re not surprised by not being at the top of someone’s to-do list.
Don’t Ramble or Hide Important Details
Remember the last time you had to put together a piece of furniture at home. Did you read every page of the instruction booklet — or were there too many to get through? Short, clearly illustrated how-to instructions make it much easier to complete your task. The same goes for emails — recipients are less likely to read and make use of overly long messages.
“If your emails don’t provide immediate value, your recipients will move along,” writes Dennis Hammer at Audience Ops.
Some readability rules:
- Lead with the important information (even if it’s bad news).
- Keep the concepts clear and simple, not overly complex and hard to parse.
- Make sure your recipient can skim for the information they need if they are too busy to read it carefully.
- Include action items and deadline-oriented tasks so everyone knows what needs to happen next (and who is responsible for performing the action).
Think Visually, Even in a Text-based Email
Headlines, subheads and bulleted lists pull the reader’s eyes to certain subjects that might affect them or be of some interest. Think about how to engage readers:
- Need something specific from a person? Call their name out with action items or questions. “Aaron: Can you provide budget details by Tuesday?”
- Try a few subheads to make sure the parties see where they might need to focus.
- Don’t go overboard with lots of formatting or colored fonts. Bold and bullets should do the trick.
- Lastly, stand back and make sure your email is formatted correctly: important things first, steps below, details next and action items in the right place.
Don’t Hide Important Emails in a Reply Chain
Have you ever lost the thread of a conversation because it’s somewhere in a long reply chain? When you have more important details to relay, or have to change topics with a recipient, don’t just hit “reply.”
A long reply chain might be months old. Take the initiative to break the cycle and start new emails that clearly discuss the issue at hand — and be sure to compose a clear and descriptive subject line, e.g. “Deadlines for Project ABC.”
Don’t Attach the Wrong Thing (or Forget it Completely)
The internet is full of horror stories of job seekers who forgot to attach their resumes — or sent recipes or personal documents in their place. But while these tales might give you a chuckle when you read about them online, they’re no laughing matter when you’re the one who sent the picture of Nic Cage instead of your CV.
Worst of all, if you send sensitive company information, it could even get you fired. Take a second to double-check your file name and attachments are correct before hitting Send.
Don’t Reply for Reply’s Sake
Unless your input is requested or needed, replying to an email with something like “OK” or “received” is just adding junk to someone’s inbox. You don’t have to respond in order to add value. Instead, focus on providing information or improving communications.
“Instead of getting a reputation as someone who replies fast, focus on a reputation of someone who sends well thought out replies that move the conversation forward,” writes Lisa Evans at Fast Company. “Turn off email notifications and only reply to emails when you have the time to craft a proper response.”
TELL US WHAT YOU THINK!
What are your worst email mistakes? We want to hear from you! Comment below or join the discussion on Twitter.