The way in which Email is used nowadays has changed drastically with the introduction of smartphones and tablets. Many people have moved away from the formality of letter-writing styles in Email to more conversational Instant Messaging uses. However, especially within a Work Environment, it is necessary to make sure you fulfil a certain criteria in order to maintain professionalism. Here are some of the Email mistakes that people make often to really consider.
1. Use greetings and closings.
Too often we are caught off-guard with an Email, and try to respond as quickly as possible by just sending back the information they’ve asked for. However, common courtesy still applies to Email! Make sure you address the person correctly, be it ‘Dear Mr. Miles’ or ‘Hey John,’ —depending on whether it is a colleague, someone you met on a training course, or a client—and make sure you tail off the Email correctly, too. Not only does this help people decipher where the Email starts and stops (especially if you’re Email client shows previous conversations), but it also keeps a little formality and professionalism associated to your persona. People are likely to take you more seriously.
However, especially with closings, you can be a little less formal with these and actually use them as part of the conversation. Consider the following: ‘Thanks for passing on that Information,’ ‘Good luck in your endeavours,’ or ‘Look forward to seeing you next Tuesday.’ All of these don’t necessarily sound as formal as ‘Yours Sincerely,’ or ‘Yours Faithfully,’ but still have the closing appeal of a letter, and offer some form of conclusion to the message you have been writing.
2. Subject is key.
The Subject of an Email is often overlooked, yet it can have such an impact on the delivery of the rest of the message. It is the first thing a person sees regarding your communication, and thus can be used to such a great benefit. You can outline the basic contents of the message, perhaps add a sense of urgency (a deadline to respond), or simply mention that it doesn’t necessarily need to be replied to.
You can guide the way in which you want the recipient to use the email, and by giving them an overall breakdown of the Email can make the contents a little easier to digest. Also, if you have previous conversations, or it is a group email, it can become very confusing if topics of conversation change but the subject line does not: an Email regarding Sales labelled as Human Resources could become very confusing.
3. The opening paragraph outlines the content.
In your opening paragraph of an Email, always outline the content of the rest of the Email (especially if it’s a long one). This acts as a quick introduction and helps the reader guide through the rest of the content. It also quickly outlines the important information you want the reader to take from the Email. For example, you may open with:
I’m just sending you an Email to give you an update of our takings from Q1, and wanted your opinion on the findings.
On the whole, we managed to take…
If this Email was intended to just give information, Fred may not have taken a more critical approach to the figures. However, in asking for his feedback and opinion prior to giving the content, he is likely to read the information more critically and attempt to absorb more of the information. The easiest guide to the opening paragraph would be: Greeting – Outline Content – Desired Outcome. This not only helps the reader, but it helps you plan the content of the Email you are writing, too—so, all in all, is a bit of a win-win.
4. Play to your audience.
This is very similar to the Tip 1, but more regarding the context of an Email. One of the biggest Email mistakes I’ve seen—especially with regards to my University studies—has been when people Email their professors in the following manner:
Can u send me the feedbaxk?
Now, although University is probably not a great example due to the informality of many nowadays, there is still a line between informality and disrespect. Depending on who you are talking to, it is necessary to make sure you are communicating in an appropriate manner. If it’s a colleague you get on well with, by all means adapt a more informal stance but remember that if your communications are professional, keep them in a professional manner. This can lead to difficulties in working relationships when the confines of the working environment and the friendship become blurred.
5. Recognise when Email is and isn’t right.
Sometimes a good old face-to-face chat is really what’s needed. So many times I have seen in the industry people using Email to send negative feedback, or even to tell someone of their redundancy—this just does not sit right within my ethics. If you need to deliver bad news, constructive feedback, or are looking to connect with colleagues and networks, then an email is not the right way to do this. If not face-to-face, maybe a quick phone call, or a handwritten memo. There are different ways to deliver different messages, so maybe experiment until you find one you find works and are comfortable with.
6. Know when to say LOL (and other chat language).
This is never right, in my personal opinion. I’ve always been a firm believer in the full use of the English language, and that abbreviations are just a lazy-man’s way of writing. The only time chat language is somewhat acceptable is via SMS. An Email is a formal form of communication, much like a letter, and thus always make sure you use correct language, and spell-check before you send. Not only that, but some people may not be aware of certain abbreviations, or may find it difficult to understand chat language. To make sure your communication is consistent and comprehendible, make sure you use correct grammar and spelling.
7. Double-check before you send!
Everyone can admit that at some point they’ve sent an Email to the wrong person by mistake, and waited anxiously for the response. Always check you’re sending it to the right person, that you’ve spell-checked, and that your subject is correct! So many times people send Emails with ambiguous subjects, or completely irrelevant people CC’d into an Email. Always check—and if you’ve noticed a mistake just as you’ve clicked send, check out the tip at the end of this post if you use Google Mail (it might save you in future!)
There are times when people need to be added to Emails in order to keep them up-to-date, or simply just for continuity. However, always think before you CC (Carbon-Copy) someone into an Email. Is the recipient likely to feel nervous of seeing someone else being sent the same Email? Most of the time if an Email is directed at a sole person, it can seem somewhat unprofessional to CC someone into the Email rather than using BCC (Blind Carbon-Copy). A great example would be in sending out a press release to your various contacts, you don’t necessarily want other firms to know that you’ve been sending the same information to them, and most of all to retain professionalism you should not be sharing these email addresses with competitors. Always think before you send—what impact will this have on the recipients of the email?
9. Reply-One? Reply-All!
Did you mean to send the whole department that Email? This is such a big blunder regarding group mails. Make sure you only hit Reply All if all need to hear about it. If it’s just regarding a catch-up on your holiday request, I don’t think everyone really needs to get involved. Always review who really needs to receive the Email in any case. The only times the whole department or a large group of people really need to receive an email are: any form of internal change which affects everyone, updates regarding performance or financial situations, company-wide announcements, or generalised feedback to departments. Plus this style of Email, if used constantly, can begin to make a team feel detached from the other members of the organisation and can actually decrease morale.
10. I’M URGENT CAUSE I’M CAPITALS
Never, ever (I mean it) use Caps-Lock in a professional Email. No matter how urgent the Email is, the use of Capitals is often a highly expressive form of communication, detracting from the professionalism of a work Email. Plus, in regard to your own image, it comes across as somewhat childish in manner, and can have an impact on your own reputation.
Top Tip: Cancel Sending Emails in Google Mail
If, by unlucky circumstances, you do end up sending an Email with some incorrect information or the wrong person copied in, within Google Mail you can actually cancel an email up to 30 seconds after you clicked send. To do so, you need to go into Google Labs and enable the Undo Send button. And while you’re at it, why not check out the other features of Google Labs that you might find useful.
Featured photo credit: Unsplash via ununsplash.imgix.net