9 Common Email Mistakes

We may not hand-write them anymore, but electronic letters are just as important a means of documentation, particularly in the workplace. One shouldn't take liberties or assume a tone that may come off as unprofessional.

BY SUCHISMITA UKIL Updated: Dec 31, 2018 11:14:16 IST
9 Common Email Mistakes

I REMEMBER BEING addressed as 'Mr Ukelele' (thanks, autocorrect) by a peer reviewer once, and while I laughed, I didn't feel like responding to him. My boss recently got a passive-aggressive email from an ex-colleague that she deleted at once. The tone suggested the sender was doing her a favour by writing in to ask for help. These are only some examples of how not to write an email.

We may have moved on to faster ways of staying in touch through messengers and voice/video calls, but we still need to write letters-in the office or to make applications, for announcements and complaints, or to offer condolences. We may not hand-write them anymore, but electronic letters are just as important a means of documentation, particularly in the workplace. One shouldn't take liberties or assume a tone that may come off as unprofessional.

Certain types of email are guaranteed to put off people permanently: an incomprehensible rant, oddly abbreviated or misspelt (the horror!), written in internet shorthand, or an ALL-CAPS scream. Then there is the sea of text that does not make the point until the second last paragraph. Forget bad grammar, some email attachments come without any body text (don't I even get a hello?); sometimes they come in a font that seems out of a teenager's journal (I'm going to malfunction if I'm subjected to Comic Sans yet again); while some come bearing colours-I've seen orange, red, purple and shades of blue so far.

Irritants like comma splices we can live with (use a full stop, will you?), but there are some things that you just cannot unsee. Like the emoticon you slipped in to be friendly, or the email chain in your forward that I spent an hour sifting through just for a line of information.

If the purpose of communication is to exchange information in an efficient manner and elicit a positive response (among others), then here are a few things to watch out for.


Write with a rage, edit with discernment. Don't send that email without reading it first. Step back and evaluate your thought, structuring it in a way that is simple and easy to follow, giving the much-needed pauses and breaks for relief, never diverting from the focus. See if you've put down everything that you wanted to discuss; follow-up correspondence can be annoying. Also, it's best to write with a clear head; getting personal, making generalizations, hurling insults or accusations is never a good idea. You don't want to be remembered as the screecher with crappy communication skills.


The subject line is like the preamble to your email, not the constitution itself. Keep it short. Stick to five or six words as a rule of thumb.


Why say something in 10 words when you can in two? Avoid repetition and don't waste space getting to the point. Be thorough and decisive, using fewer words whenever possible. This is not to say that you skim on your articles and prepositions, but, go ahead, drop the hollow adjectives. In the same vein, it's best to be courteous, not effusive (and this includes exuberant use of punctuation).


Please don't. You don't make sense. You don't get to break the rules because people have a tough time taking you seriously. Also, could you pay some attention to grammar please? Thanks.


Check if the receiver's inbox has the capacity to receive your files-don't share large attachments without warning! Plus, make sure they are named correctly for quick identification. And while we're on the subject, don't send attachments with blank emails. Even if it's just a word, it goes to show that you care. You're waiting for a file to attach before you can hit 'send'. How long does it really take to say, "Here you go"? Would you rather risk your mail going to the spam folder, as is the case with some smart inboxes, and save yourself a couple of seconds?


Proper salutations and sign-offs can win over the stuffiest people. Greeting the receiver with a simple hello and their name, and ending with a 'thank you', 'warm regards' or variants are subtle ways of showing respect.


Since the receiver can't hear your voice or see your expressions (and you don't want to risk introducing emoticons in work email), it's better to err on the side of caution. This means rephrasing sentences that sound pushy, demanding or straight up rude. Anything that sounds like an order-"Let's chat in an hour"-could be rephrased to draw out a better response-"Would you be able to call me up in an hour?" "Sure, which number should I call on?"


Because that's what happens when you 'reply to all' every single time or forward an email that was meant to be a private joke or a bitching session. My colleague remembers waking up to a bajillion notifications on her smartphone when a confused employee mistakenly sent a company-wide email, spurring a vicious thread that became impossible to get out of. Reply all and forward functions-use them sparingly.


Hey coolgirl.browneyes97, it's time to move on to a real-world-like email address. Be professional, go with the timeless FirstName.LastName@Service-Provider.com (e.g. John.Smith@gmail.com). In case of a common name like Neha Sharma, you may have to get creative-try a bunch of permutations and think of something distinct, like a middle name or a number. But please don't settle on one that makes you the laughing stock.

It goes without saying that you should use these pointers at your discretion, depending on your familiarity with the person. A well-crafted email can be the beginning of a long, fulfilling professional journey, after all. And remember, you are writing to establish a relationship, hopefully a memorable one, not one that leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

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