In this age of Instagram, #hastags, and texting as the primary form of personal interaction, it's still important to remember that communication in business is done almost entirely via email. Not only do emails serve as the primary way to converse with other professionals, but they're also an important tool for business transactions. Although we like to think people won’t judge a book by their cover, the emails you send are often someone’s first impression of you, and in most professional circumstances, you don't want them to think you actually speak the way you caption your photos. Therefore, it is imperative to take the time to craft professional, coherent emails that will reflect well on you and your company. Here are some of the the most common and cringe-worthy mistakes to avoid when writing a professional email, from start to finish.
1. The “reply all” mistake
Accidentally clicking “reply all” when you meant to click “reply” can be a fatal mistake in business. As we all know, knowledge is power. That’s why it is extremely important to be careful with what knowledge you share (and with whom), especially when it’s in writing. Once you write it, you really can’t go back. Accidentally sharing confidential information with a competitor could lead to some serious consequences, especially if your boss is included in that “reply all”. Additionally, it is important not to leave anyone out of an important email. This could be perceived as an intentional attempt to withhold information, which could also be disastrous. All in all, it’s important to be very aware of who will be receiving your email – and who will not be receiving it.
2. Don’t forget the subject line!
Although this mistake may not be as consequential as the “reply all” situation discussed above, sending an email with an incorrect subject line will confuse and, ultimately, frustrate your colleagues (believe me – I know from experience). Often times in business, email conversations go on for hours, sometimes days. If the subject of an email conversation has changed, the subject line should change as well. Additionally, if you are trying to reach a top executive via email, your subject line will determine your success. According to Forbes, the key to getting the attention of a busy professional “is one sentence storytelling – in the form of a killer subject line.”
People often overlook the introduction of an email, or write it off as an unimportant detail not worth their time. However, according to Business Insider, “how you begin an email sets the tone and may shape the recipient’s perception of you.” By not taking the 10 seconds necessary to type a warm, yet professional greeting, your email could come across as terse or even rude. You wouldn’t walk up to a colleague at the office and dive into a business conversation without first greeting them, so don’t do it in your emails. A simple “Hi Bob, I hope you’re well” will suffice to begin a conversation. Most importantly, avoid the email kiss of death, also known as “to whom it may concern”. Beginning an email with this phrase immediately makes you appear uninformed and lazy, as though you didn’t take the time to research whom it may concern. You may as well begin your email with “dear somebody”. Equally important as an introduction is a concise, yet warm closing for your email. Simply writing your name at the bottom of the email won’t do, either. In a professional conversation, you wouldn’t simply say “Caroline OUT” and walk away, would you? Include some sort of sign off in each email, even if it’s as simple as “best, Caroline”. After all, you may be doing business with that person for years to come.
Ah, now for the body of the email. The “meat and potatoes”, if you will. The time has come to finally communicate your message to your colleague. First and foremost, ask yourself if the message you need to convey would best be communicated by phone, email, or an in-person visit. The medium you choose to communicate your message will most certainly impact how the person on the other end receives it. According to the Huffington Post, “good writing is now an essential skill in the digital age.” It is easy to come across as insincere or aggressive in written form, especially since body language and verbal tone are absent. That is why I stress the importance of your tone. Yes, a business email should be less warm and friendly than, say, an email to your grandmother catching her up on the latest season of Downton Abbey. However, be careful not to be overly cold and insincere, even if you are discussing a report you filed for third quarter sales. Write in complete sentences and take the time to explain yourself if anything could be unclear to your recipient. That being said, be careful not to take too informal of a tone. Never use abbreviations, nicknames, or inside jokes in a professional email. Save those for the Christmas party.
5. Proofread, proofread, proofread
Last but certainly not least, always (and I do mean always) proofread your email. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve found a mistake after hitting the “send” button and then had to send a follow-up email explaining my mistake. It’s embarrassing and very unprofessional. Before you click “send,” stop yourself and check for the big 5 – spelling, grammar, names, typos, and content.
- Thanks to technology, it will take you no more than 10 seconds to run a quick spell check on your email.
- Read through the email for any grammatical errors, such as its/it’s or their/they’re/there. If you’re unsure of how to use these, here's a quick guide to help you out.
- Make sure you’ve spelled every name correctly in the email. Misspelling someone’s name is embarrassing for you and, depending on who you’re dealing with, could be considered highly offensive as well.
- Skim your email for typographical errors. It is easy to get distracted at work and type “the” twice or forget an “and”.
- Take one final look at your email to make sure each sentence reads fluidly and makes sense. If you’re worried something may be a bit confusing, take the time to explain yourself. On the other hand, if you feel you’re rambling about a certain subject, try to consolidate that part of the email.
Now, click that glorious “send” button with confidence, emailers. You will be the most professional, put together person in your office. You will be the Ryan Gosling of the workplace – looking sharp, acting charming, and leaving everyone swooning after you.