Let me start by confessing that I have made each and every one of the mistakes on this list, probably more than once. I use smiley faces, I forget to spell check, and I have definitely been known to say a lot when a little would have done just fine. But the key is to recognize your e-mail weaknesses and to work to improve them. Studies show that the average working American sends about 35 e-mails a day, which equals plenty of opportunity to mess up, but also plenty of chances to write better e-mails today than you ever have before! Here are some common errors we all make with our written workplace correspondences and tips on how to fix them:
- Replying All, All the Time – We all think we’re the main office prankster, but sometimes an awesome joke about that mandatory staff meeting on Monday is better kept to yourself. And no, there’s no one in the office who doesn’t wish Phyllis a Happy Birthday, it’s just that your birthday sentiments would have meant just as much if you sent them only to her and didn’t CC 50 other people. For the most part work e-mails are meant to be about work, so help your coworkers keep their inbox clean by asking yourself, “Do I really need to reply all?” before you hit send.
- Expecting an Instant Response – If you just asked someone out on a first date via text and all you’re seeing are those three little dots that mean they’re typing, it’s okay to freak out and need a response RIGHT THIS SECOND! Otherwise, chill out. The recipient will answer you at their convenience. It’s not that they didn’t see your e-mail, it’s that responding to you might not be their top priority at the moment. General rule of thumb: allow 24 hours for a response back to your e-mail. If you need an answer quicker than that, go old school and call the person directly.
- Sending an E-mail Too Early or to the Wrong Person – This might seem like a mistake that shouldn’t happen too often, but it does. You meant to forward an e-mail from a client to your supervisor but instead you replied to the sender with a thoughtful “WHHAAAAT????!!” message. Whoopsie daisy. One trick you can use to avoid any e-mail misfires is to leave the “To:” Box empty until you’re ready to hit send. But the real key might be to slow down. E-mail makes communicating faster, but it can also make it sloppier. Better to take the extra 10 minutes to compose a well-written e-mail to the right person than to send a half-finished one to the wrong one; people will appreciate your thoughtful reply much more than your 30 second response time.
- Forgetting Your Audience – Is this an e-mail to your best friend to her private account? Then include all the emojis, swear words, and gifs of One Direction that you want. Is it an e-mail to your boss or a potential client? Then you should probably avoid all three of those things. Electronic communication provides us with a certain distance from the person we’re speaking to, which sometimes means we say things via e-mail we wouldn’t say in person. You want your e-mails to coworkers and clients to present you in a professional manner. Make sure your grammar, tone, and content reflect that.
And last but definitely not least . . .
- Not Editing Before You Hit Send – U might b the smrtst person EVAH, but if u dnt type like it no1 will no. If it isn’t an AIM conversation with your middle school dream guy, then no one is impressed by your creative T9- style spelling. Take the extra 5 minutes before you hit send to re-read your e-mail. First check for basics like grammar, spelling, and manners (always say please and thank you). Then do a quick check for more subtle mistakes, like not including a greeting (rude!), coming across as angry or sarcastic when you don’t mean to, or saying way too much when a little would have sufficed. Not every e-mail needs to be edited like it’s the next great American novel, but it deserves more thought than that comment you posted on Tumblr. Speaking of grammar, if you are a super cool English Major like me, you might also enjoy this new Weird Al song “Word Crimes” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Gv0H-vPoDc. It’s pretty funny.
Happy E-mail Writing!