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  • Writer's pictureSarah Butler

8 Common Email Mistakes You're Making At Work & How To Fix Them

We all know that email communication is essential to the modern workplace. In this article, we will identify some common email mistakes that could affect your reputation and use them to learn how to send more effective and professional emails.

Mistake 1: Sending an email

You know the feeling of being overwhelmed by the sheer number of unanswered emails in your inbox. Don't add to the volume in your colleagues' or manager's inbox. If it is a quick, informal thanks or basic answer to a quick question you need to say consider doing it on an instant message platform like Teams or Slack etc.

Instead of sending an email that might add to someone's inbox, it might be more personal and direct to communicate directly. If you find it hard to keep your message concise, consider if the topic is too complex. Could you communicate your message better with an in-person discussion or a phone call? Could you document the information in a procedure document instead or demonstrate it in a video call?

Mistake 2: Sending emails to the wrong people

We can all remember a time when your inbox filled up needlessly due to the inconsiderate use of the 'reply all' button. Just because you received an email addressed to multiple people, does not mean that all must be included in the response. If it is to share information required by the whole group of you have specifically been asked to loop in everyone on the email, examine the people on the list and then only include people to whom 70% of the content is necessary or relevant to them in your reply.

Being inundated with irrelevant emails on a daily basis can be disruptive and take up a lot of time; furthermore, becoming recognised as the person who always chooses the 'reply all' option could have a negative impact on your image, since it could be seen as careless, hurried and unprofessional. Additionally, it could imply that you are unconfident about making decisions without the advice of senior managers.

Mistake 3: Using the wrong tone

Being too formal or informal are both easily made mistakes using email. Start by thinking about your greeting - and yes, you must always use some form of greeting. Asking for something or giving instructions without even a 'Hello' can come across as demanding and rude.

Always try and use the recipient's name and use the name you would if meeting face to face. For example, if meeting in person you would use their first name, then it is also OK to do so in an email. Avoid using openers like 'To Whom It May Concern' or 'Dear Sir/Madam as these are overly formal for an email and best used for formal business letters. Take the time to try and find out the recipient's name and if this is not possible open up with a failsafe 'Hello'.

Equally important is how you sign off. It goes without saying to avoid the overly familiar like a 'X' (kiss). Even a 'Cheers' is probably best avoided. 'Yours Faithfully/Sincerely' is too formal. Good go-to sign-offs are 'Kind Regards', 'Regards', 'Thank You',

Remember to avoid using text speak, all caps and exclamation marks. Emojis have now become far more acceptable and are now permissible to be used in more casual business emails to help convey emotions or subtle cues that are present in face-to-face conversations; emojis can help to avoid misinterpretations of meaning or tone and soften requests or directions. 😃

Mistake 4: Sending at the wrong time

You may be doing overtime or working flexi hours and as much as you may want to hit send and remove the email from your to-do list, be careful when sending emails outside of usual business hours.

Mailing messages related to a professional matter beyond the usual office hours might be interpreted as a sign that the company is short-staffed, that the sender is not adept in managing their time, or that you are desperate.

Since your workmates or stakeholders probably aren't working at that moment, it's not a good idea to interrupt them or make it seem like they need to do something during their off hours. Use the delay or scheduled send functions to transmit your email at a more appropriate time.

Also never send an email in the heat of the moment. If you are feeling emotional, draft an email expressing what you want to say then put it aside until you have cooled off and revisit it before sending. Sending emails while experiencing negative emotions can seriously affect your professional reputation and damage your prospects.

Mistake 5: Not using formatting

Don't send emails as big blocks of text. Use plenty of white space, paragraphs, bullet points and tables.

According to research from 2018, almost half of all emails were opened on mobile devices. Consequently, if you write lengthy paragraphs without bullet points or formatting, many of your readers will close your emails without reading them. Furthermore, it is safe to say that nobody likes to read long emails, even from a desktop. To make your emails more mobile-friendly and to increase the chances of getting a reply, include short paragraphs (no more than two sentences each), bullets, links, and lists. This will help the recipients to move quickly down the page.

Large blocks of text make it harder to pick skim the contents and pick out the key points. Consider using bold or italics to highlight the most important points but remember that this type of formatting can be removed if using a plain text format rather than HTML. And don't go overboard. An email with a lot of words highlighted in bold or underlined is disconcerting to read and gives an impression of unprofessionalism.

When writing a more lengthy email, it is important to make your request stand out by separating it into its own line or section of the message so it is clearly visible.

If you have written a lengthy piece of 800 words and only felt the need to emphasise one statement, it is recommended to take a second look at your content to ensure that everything is necessary. It is better to directly get to the point and spare your reader the time of going through unnecessary details - they will be thankful for it.

Mistake 6: Getting too creative

Creative fonts like Gothic are best left to personal email communications. For business emails stick to stand business fonts like Arial. Calibri, Helvetica, or Times Roman Numeral. These fonts are easier to use and deliver a professional impression.

Also, ensure you use your standard business email signature if you have one. If you don't have one create your own using one of the above fonts and include information such as:

  • Your name

  • Your contact information (phone number, website, address)

  • Your title

  • A link to or badge for any professional accolades you’ve recently received

  • Links to appropriate social media channels (i.e., LinkedIn or Twitter)

Don't insert a photo with this information on it because these are clickable. You want people to be able to click on active hyperlinks such as your website and social media and be taken to the specific sites. You can't do this if your signature is an image only.

Hubspot has a great signature creator and there are many others available online.

Your email signature is not a place to include an inspirational quote or statement about not printing the email for environmental reasons. The only fine print in your email (if necessary at all) should be privacy or confidential statements required by your business.

Mistake 7: Vague or missing subject line

Despite seeming like a minor thing, the subject line of an email can be of the utmost importance. It is the first thing the reader will come across, so it should be informative and eye-catching. A clear subject line will tell the recipient what to expect from the email and will help them organize their inbox. If the subject line is vague or missing, the recipient may not read it or may think it is spam.

To ensure your emails are opened, limit the length of the subject line to seven words or fewer and avoid utilising clever wordplay - make it clear, concise and descriptive of the email contents.

The subject line should only have a few key words that are relevant to the message. Consider what the email is about, are there deadlines to be aware of, do you want people to take action by a certain time, is it urgent or not? Make sure to tailor the subject line accordingly so your recipient can give the email the attention it deserves.

Think through the following three questions when crafting your subject line:

  1. "Who is my audience?" - Is it an executive, a marketing manager, or maybe a small business owner? Knowing who your audience is will help with step number two

  2. "What do they care about?" - The words you use in your subject line are the first thing your reader will see (apart from your email address). Make sure it makes an impact by focusing on something that the reader is interested in. This could be a shared acquaintance, a problem in business, or an appointment you have planned. Ensure that the subject line is applicable to the reader and that it will get them to open the email.

  3. "Does my subject line reflect what’s inside?" - Avoid attempting to deceive your reader into opening your email. If you write a subject line like, "In reference to next week’s call," yet have not arranged a call, you risk being marked as spam, and that will destroy any confidence and reliability you have.

Mistake 8: Not proofreading and reviewing

Even though it may be obvious, you'd be shocked at the details you may forget when you've reread the same email message three times in a row. Use the inbuilt spell check to catch mistakes. Alternatively, you can transfer the text to Grammarly to look for grammar mistakes. Don't forget to confirm that you have spelled the recipient's name and the company name correctly.

Have you ever sent a message without the necessary document? Maybe the link in the email was broken? Or you even have the wrong file? These problems can be solved in a timely manner with an extra email, but this only increases the amount of emails people have to read and could seem unprofessional or careless. It is better to attach the document as soon as you start writing the email and make sure to check the links. Additionally, make sure to provide a suitable title for the attachments. If the title is not descriptive, the recipient may think the attachment is spam or a virus.

Hold off on inputting the recipient's address in the "to" field until you are completely done writing the email. This way, you won't unintentionally dispatch it before you have included your attachment, re-read the email, and identified any mistakes.

In an entertaining article, Perkbox surveyed nearly 2,000 people to find the most annoying email behaviours. In summary they found that:

  • The perfect work email starts with ‘Hi’ and ends in ‘Kind Regards’.

  • ‘Just looping in…’ and ‘As per my last email’ are rated the most annoying email cliches.

  • The worst work email sign-offs are ‘love’, ‘warmly’, ‘cheers’ and ‘best’.

  • 'Hey', 'Happy Friday' and 'To whom it may concern' are the worst ways to start an email.

  • Using capital letters and kisses are the biggest email DON’Ts.

  • A huge 16% think that it’s never acceptable to use an exclamation mark in a work email, while 48% say that you can use just one.

Wrapping up

We all spend a considerable amount of time every day reading and writing emails. Unfortunately, the emails we send can often be interpreted in an unintended way by the recipient.

Before you hit the 'send' button, it's important to ask yourself whether email is the best way to communicate. Sometimes, calling or using a direct messaging app may be more appropriate.

Your emails should be brief and to the point, and sent only to the people who need to read them. Additionally, make sure to include a call to action and be clear about what you expect the recipient to do.

Remember that emails are a representation of your own professionalism and values and can affect how other people perceive you. Be courteous and take the time to proofread your emails before sending them.

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