We’re all busy. We all have overflowing in boxes. But lazy email habits could lead to misunderstanding, frustration, non-action, wasted effort, wasted time, damaged relationships and ruined reputations. Are you guilty of any of these lazy habits? If so, it’s time to take action now before it’s too late.
- Using a vague or outdated subject line
What you put in your subject line can mean the difference between whether your message is read right now, today, tomorrow, next week or never. An email with a subject line like ‘Update’ or ‘Hi’ or ‘News’ may not be likely to inspire people to open it. Help your reader to understand the bigger picture by composing a savvy subject line that tells the reader exactly what the message is all about. Your subject line should be brief (many mailers will cut off long subject lines) and should give the essence of the content of the message. If you know the recipient gets a lot of messages, you may want to include URGENT or FOR ACTION in the subject line of important messages.
- Not using a greeting or sign-off
Internally, I can understand if you sometimes drop the ‘Hi John’ at the beginning, especially if the email exchange continues, but externally there’s no excuse. It’s important to remember the simple courtesies of an appropriate greeting and sign-off. And that doesn’t mean ‘Thanks and regards’!
- Not proofreading
Have you ever sent an email to the wrong person? Have you ever misspelled the reader’s name? Have you ever mentioned the wrong date for a meeting?
Proofread carefully, especially when emailing from your phone. If you regularly make errors in emails, people will question your attention to detail and your ability to handle your work.
- Using abbreviations or acronyms
You may think these will save time, but they can lead to confusion for readers. While FYI is globally recognised as ‘for your information’, FYA could cause chaos because some people think it’s ‘for your action’ while others think it’s ‘for your approval’ – there is a big difference. Only use acronyms that the reader is sure to understand.
- Using the wrong case
Sloppy work sometimes results in writers using ALL CAPITALS or lower case abbreviations. In the world of email, using capital letters is equivalent to SHOUTING! (Didn’t you automatically raise your voice then, even when reading this to yourself?) This is seen as rude and annoying, it should not be necessary even to put a subject line in capital letters.
Other people cannot be bothered with any capital letters at all. Sometimes a message can be abbreviated so much that it can be impossible to read.
- Not thinking about who really needs to see the message
One common aggravation of email is that people are being included in the cc list just for the sake of it, or are being forwarded copies of long messages that they don’t really need to see. Some people forward messages without even a courteous note to tell the reader why it is being forwarded in the first place.
Also way too many people are clicking ‘reply all’ when only the sender needs to see the reply. The result is that everyone else is receiving a copy of a message that they don’t need to read, meaning they have to open them, read them and delete them.
- Writing everything in one long paragraph
Common features of reader-unfriendly messages:
• Long-winded sentences
• Lack of paragraphing
Make it easier for your readers by structuring your messages logically and by leaving a blank line between your (short) paragraphs.
- Vague messages with details missing
If you’ve ever read an email and wondered what you’re supposed to do, you know how frustrating this can be. Email messages are often sent in such a rush that the writer does not plan the message beforehand and makes no effort to structure it properly. Other writers ramble on in long-winded epistles that miss the point altogether. Such messages will rarely achieve their objectives and will only serve to frustrate and confuse.
- Using unfriendly tone
It’s very difficult to convey emotions in our writing. This often gets people into trouble because they type out exactly what they would say without thinking of the tone of voice that would be used to signal their emotions. It is so easy for misunderstandings to occur in email. If your tone is not quite right, your reader could easily be put on the defensive.
- Messages that are just plain sloppy
Common complaints of sloppy work:
• Not being clear on the goal of email
• Not attempting to develop a logical flow of ideas
• Not doing spell check
• Poor typing habits
Committing any of the above is a sure way to lower your credibility. Remember that your messages give an impression of your company and of you as an individual. Make sure it is a good impression by taking as much care when composing an email message as you would with a formal letter.
The content of this article is from the book ‘Model Business Letters, Emails and Other Business Documents (7th Edition)’ by Shirley Taylor.
Contributed by Pearson Hong Kong