Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky
Proofread Before Send: Avoid These Common Email Mistakes
Compared to 15 or 20 years ago, email is now a part of daily life, both in the workplace and in our personal lives. Quick and convenient, it can also be very easy to make a mistake. Read on for my advice on many common pitfalls and how to avoid them.
The “From” field
- If you have multiple email accounts, make sure that you send any given message from the correct one. For example, don’t send a work-related email from your personal account, or vice versa.
- Make sure that the “human name” portion of your “From” field is appropriate for the account, e.g., “John Smith” or “J. Smith” for your personal account vs. “Dr. Smith” or “John Smith, M.D.” or “Smith Medical Associates” for your work account.
To / CC / BCC
- Make sure that you pick the correct recipient(s), especially if your email program lets you type a few letters to select someone. If you’re not careful, you can easily end up sending an email to the wrong person or company.
- If you’re typing in the recipient’s email address from scratch, double-check that you’ve spelled it correctly. A mistyped address might deliver your message to the wrong person if that account exists. If that mistyped address does not exist, many email systems will notify you by “bouncing” your message back to you, but some won’t.
- If you are replying to a message that was addressed to multiple people, only use Reply All if what you have to say is appropriate for everyone to receive.
- Don’t forward rumors, chain emails, or other potentially false claims.
- Respect your email server’s limits on the number of recipients per message and per hour. For example, if you send one message to 500 people, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) will probably conclude that you’re a spammer and suspend your ability to send any more email until you call them to request reinstatement. If that limit is 100 per message and per hour, you could break that list of 500 people up into groups of 75 or fewer, and then send 7 separate messages over a period of 7 hours or more.
If you’re sending one message to multiple people, use the correct field:
- To: These are the people to whom you are directly writing, and from whom you expect a reply. Everyone in the “To” field can see both the “To” and “CC” fields.
- CC (Carbon Copy): These are additional people (if any) who will also receive a copy of your email who you’re keeping informed on the given issue. Everyone in the “CC” field can also see both the “To” and “CC” fields.
- BCC (Blind Carbon Copy): These are additional people who will secretly also receive a copy of your email. Everyone in the “BCC” field can also see both the “To” and “CC” fields, but no one (besides you) can see who is listed in “BCC.”
- You might send an email To an employee, CC their manager, and BCC the head of the department.
- If you’re sending out an announcement to a number of people, put them all in the BCC field so you don’t reveal everyone’s address to everyone else.
Also, any recipient might click Reply All, so don’t include someone in the BCC field who might do that and reveal that you secretly included them. If that might be embarrassing, send that person a separate copy of the email.
Keep it focused:
- It should summarize the contents of the message in a few words.
- It should give the recipient a reason to open the message.
- Don’t leave it blank.
- Keep it short. Don’t write a sentence or a paragraph or the entire message here.
- Don’t write “From (your name).” The “From” field will already tell your recipient who the message is from.
- In an ongoing conversation, if the topic has changed, update the Subject to reflect that.
Treat it like any good piece of letter-writing:
- Start with an appropriate greeting: “Hi John--” or “Dear Mr. Smith,” etc.
- Be clear at the start why you’re sending this email.
- Check your spelling.
- Look for commonly misused words like “its” vs. “it’s,” “peak” vs. “peek” vs. “pique,” etc.
- Check your grammar.
- Review what you’ve written for clarity, and rewrite anything that might be ambiguous.
- Your recipient can’t hear your “tone of voice,” so choose your words carefully.
- If you need to know that they got your message, add “Please let me know that you received this” in the Body at the end, making it more likely that they will let you know just as they finish reading your email.
- Review your style. Is it appropriately friendly and informal? Professional? Factual?
- Don’t over-use exclamation points, ellipses (...), emoticons like “:),” or abbreviations.
- Except for isolated words, don’t over-use ALL CAPS because by convention that means that you’re SHOUTING.
- Double-check any figures, dates, times, etc. Add the day of the week to dates for clarity, but if July 1st is a Thursday, don’t create confusion by accidentally writing “Friday July 1.”
- If you duplicate a previous message and re-use it with someone else, carefully review and update everything, including the “To” field, the Subject, the greeting, and the rest of the Body.
- If you’re angry or upset, don’t send right away. Give yourself time to cool down and review again.
- Be polite, even if it’s difficult. It will pay off in the long term.
- Assume that they will show your email to other people, or that they may post it publicly, on social media, etc.
- Review your email for length. Consider including only the summary or conclusions, and then offer the details if they’re interested. In my experience, they almost never ask.
- If you have multiple topics or questions to share, many people are so busy (and will read your email on mobile devices with tiny screens) that they may only respond to the first (or last) question in your email.
- If your questions are completely unrelated, consider sending them in separate messages.
- If your questions are related or have a logical progression, start by sending only the first one. After that gets answered, send the second one, etc. That will take a little more effort, but that’s better than sending a possibly exhausting list of questions.
- If you have a list of points to make, consider breaking them up into separate paragraphs, and perhaps also numbering them or making them bullet points, which you can do very simply by putting a hyphen and a space (“- ”) at the start of each point.
- Your recipient may be so busy or distracted that if you ask them “Should we do (a) or (b)?” they may reply “Yes.” Be patient, gently point that out, and ask them again.
- Similarly, you might ask multiple questions and they may reply with a single answer. Be patient with this as well.
- If you are answering a number of questions within a single message, help the other person understand your reply by making a copy of the questions and then inserting your answers right after each question. Make your answers easy to find by inserting blank lines before and after them, putting them in ALL CAPS, or using colored text.
- When forwarding a message you received from a newsletter, remove any “unsubscribe” links so your recipient can’t end your subscription.
- Don’t expect an immediate reply. If you have an eventual deadline, ask for the other person’s help to meet it. If you have an immediate need, call them on the phone.
- Don’t be vague. Finish with a clear conclusion. What do you need? When do you need it? What are you going to do next? When? How? Thank them for their time and effort.
- Include your email signature as appropriate. If you have multiple signatures, choose the correct one. Only add your signature at the start of an ongoing conversation.
- For very important emails, have a friend or colleague review it.
- Proofread, proofread, proofread.
Before clicking Send:
- Don’t forget to attach that important document, picture, spreadsheet, etc.
- Don’t forget to attach any other related documents.
- Double-check that you attached the correct attachment.
- Mention your attachment in the body of the message, e.g., “Enclosed please find...” or “See attached.”
- When forwarding a message, remove any attachments that might not be appropriate.
- Check the size of your attachments. Most email systems limit the total number of megabytes in a message, including all of the attachments, to anywhere from 8 mb to 25 mb. Larger messages may either get “stuck” in your Outbox, fail to send and remain in your Drafts folder, or “bounce” back after you send. You can’t use email to send large files, that requires a different approach.
If you make a mistake via email, contact the other person right away to take responsibility for it and correct the problem.
Email can be very efficient, but it’s not always the best choice. Ask yourself whether a phone call or in-person meeting might be more appropriate, especially for sensitive or confidential issues, since email is neither secure nor private, nor guaranteed to arrive, and you also can’t control when (or whether) the other person will reply.
Where to go from here
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phone: (617) 484-6657
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Copyright (C) 2021 Kadansky Consulting, Inc. All rights reserved.
I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.
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