With the popularity of emoticons and texting abbreviations, emails have become less formal, just as written letters and cards have gone out of fashion. While you can be informal in your email communications with friends and family, in the office – no matter where you work – you need to take your emails seriously. It can be disastrous to your job and reputation if you make a single typo or if your words are misinterpreted.
If you’re writing to a co-worker who you’re close with, you can relax your tone a bit, but you must be careful not to send it to the wrong person. The main point in all professional email writing is that you need to read over every part of the email, including the send fields and subject lines to ensure it’s going to the right place with the right message. Avoid these eight common email mistakes:
1. Sloppy salutation: The first time you write someone, you should use “Dear” followed by a formal title, such as “Mr.,” “Mrs.” or “Dr.” Once the person responds, you can change your reply salutation to reflect what they’ve used. For example, if someone closes his email with his first name, you can address the next email in that way. You can go with “Dear,” “Hi” or just use his first name.
2. Mixed up “to,” “cc” and “bcc” recipients: Think before you send. How many people really need to read this message? Are there reasons some people are on the “to” line and others are on the “cc”? Everyone on the “to” line should have a need to read the email’s contents. Those on the “cc” line should be expected to read the information but not in depth, and they’re not required to take action on the email’s subject. “Bcc” should be used sparingly.
3. Unprofessional shorthand. OMG, please do not use abbreviations or emoticons until you know someone very well. How well? You’ve been in contact with them for months or met them in person and feel confident that your shorthand won’t be misunderstood.
4. Busy signatures. This section should be standard and easy to read, because the purpose of it is to help someone find your contact information easily. Using different colors, fonts or type is not an inviting way to present your all-important “here’s how to find me” info. Choose a common font and standard type.
5. Personal quotes. Many people like to use a quote as part of their email signature to express their beliefs or personality. This really isn’t the best place to do so. There are lots of other venues online to use a quote, like Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. The problem with using it in professional emails is that you could rub someone the wrong way, and that someone could be your boss. There are other places and ways to express your personality and beliefs.
6. Casual language. After you type, read over what you’ve written – slowly, even out loud if you can. You want to check not only for typos, but for clarity of the message. Writing should always be more formal than your speech. If what you wrote in a work email sounds like you talking to your best friend, rewrite it to sound formal, as professional letters should.
7. Unclear forwarding. Before you ever forward an email, scrutinize it! Check the “to,” “cc” and “bcc” lines, and ask yourself if those are the people who really need to read this message. Also make sure you remove the automatic “FW” in the subject line, and type an appropriate subject to reflect the email’s contents. If there is information in the original email that is irrelevant to the recipients, delete it. If it’s not immediately clear why you are sending the recipients this email, spell it out. If something in the original email is unclear, explain it better with a note at the top of your forwarded email.
8. Ambiguous attachments. Attachments are a fact of email. When you attach a file, make sure you explain what is in the text of the email. People should be able to quickly read the introduction and decide whether or not they should take the time to open the attachment. With the huge number of emails people receive these days, they don’t have time to peruse text and open every attachment.
Take a second look at your email before sending it out, from top to bottom. Make sure recipient email addresses are correct and on the right recipient line. Check your subject and email text for professionalism and clarity. Have you used the correct salutation and explained any attachments?
Finally, revise your email signature for all work correspondence. Keep your reputation at work respectable. While work is not always serious, your emails should be. You don’t want your superiors or peers to be so turned off or distracted by your lack of email professionalism that you get passed over for a raise or promotion. Keep it professional. TTYL.
Marcelle Yeager is the president of Career Valet, which delivers personalized career navigation services. Her goal is to enable people to recognize skills and job possibilities they didn’t know they had to make a career change or progress in their current career. She worked for more than 10 years as a strategic communications consultant, including four years overseas. Marcelle holds an MBA from the University of Maryland.