Have you ever written an email, clicked send, and then found an embarrassing mistake? Often, you don’t see that misspelled word or insensitive phrasing until it’s too late, right?
I’m a professional editor and proofreader, so my professional correspondence is held to a higher standard. Even when the correspondence is personal, it’s still important for all of us to remember how easy it is for a recipient to misunderstand an email that isn’t clear and concise.
I’d love to share a few tricks I’ve learned that can save you from making those embarrassing gaffes in the first place.
Accidently clicking ‘send’ before you’ve finished typing isn’t too awful when you’re sending a quick note to a friend. However, it can be quite embarrassing when you’re composing a business letter or other important correspondence. Trust me – I learned the hard way.
One way to avoid sending an unfinished email is by leaving the ‘to’ box empty until after you finish composing your message. Another good idea is drafting emails in your word processing program and then using the copy/paste function to insert the error-free message into the email body when ready.
If you simply must compose a response to an email in ‘reply’ mode, at least remove all addresses from the ‘to’ box until you’re confident your message is error-free.
We often type quickly and compose as we go. Take an extra minute to reread what you’ve typed before sending correspondence on its way.
Most of us have been the recipients of messages sent by phone or tablet that make no sense thanks to autocorrect, voice-to-text, or spell check. A simple example is “Don’t forget to bring your rocket,” when you mean ‘racquet.’
Taking a minute to review your message can actually save time by avoiding several back-and-forth clarification messages.
Homophones are words that sound alike but are spelled differently – such as here/hear, to/two/too and complement/compliment. They are some of the most common mistakes I see in emails and other writing.
Autocorrect usually won’t help you with homophones because these are all real words and are marked only when used incorrectly. These mistakes are easy to make but also easy to avoid.
If you’re not absolutely sure you’re using the correct word, take a second and look up its meaning. I cringe every time I proofread my own emails and discover I used ‘you’re’ when I meant ‘your.’
Voice every word, even if you’re only whispering to yourself. Reading aloud (not ‘allowed’; see #3) will help you find errors as well as sentences that might not make sense.
Have you ever received an email that ends with “Thanks you” instead of “Thank you”? The writer probably decided that “Thanks” was too informal, added “you,” and then forgot to change the first word.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve typed “Thank your” because my fingers are flying across the keyboard. Sometimes they forget to wait for my brain to catch up, and they automatically add that ‘r.’
My first name, Candace, isn’t especially unusual, but there are several alternate ways to spell it. Even though I use an email signature for all my professional correspondence, I still receive reply emails that begin with “Dear Candice” or “Dear Candance.”
I have to applaud them for following Tip #1, but just a quick verification would tell them they too have flying fingers. Before you send an email, verify the spelling of the recipient’s name to avoid addressing Christina as Christiana or Kristin or Kristina.
Have you ever received an email addressed to dozens of people you don’t know? How do you feel about having your email address available to everyone on that list?
There’s a simple solution to make sure you aren’t the one who shares all those email addresses: use the ‘bcc’ option. When I’m emailing the same information to several clients, I address it to myself as the primary recipient and then bcc everyone else.
That way, only my email address is visible to all the addressees – no one knows who the others are or how many people I’ve sent the email to, and everyone’s privacy is protected.
Using lists for emailing the same group of people is a wonderful timesaver. However, if your book club is planning a surprise birthday party for one of the members and she’s on that list, she won’t be very surprised!
Make sure you aren’t sending your message to people who shouldn’t see it, and also be sure everyone who should be on that list is included. On a related note, double check that you aren’t just replying to one person if you mean to reply to the group, or vice versa.
If you’re sending an important email, consider sending it to yourself first as a test. If you’ve made any of the mistakes we’ve discussed, you’re more likely to see them when viewing in the format your addressee receives.
If you addressed your message to John Smith but your salutation is “Welcome home, Mary!” chances are you’ll catch it when you read it from the recipient’s point of view. To add another layer of assurance, print it out and read it aloud.
It’s easy to forget attachments in your eagerness to push send on your perfectly proofread email. This tip is a timesaver because you won’t have to follow up with an apology email when you realize you forgot the attachment in the initial correspondence.
Here is my confession: I’ve had to write those apologies more than a couple of times. It’s truly embarrassing.
What tips can you share to avoid embarrassing email faux pas? Share your email stories in the comments!