The Seven Most Common Mistakes People Make When Writing Email … and How to Avoid Them

Has confusion or a lack of clarity in your emails ever put you in a bind? Have you ever found yourself having to go back again and again to clarify instructions? Or found that despite your best efforts people just don’t seem to understand what you’re driving at? You’re not alone.

Email may be the most commonly used form of communication today, but its immediacy can be both an advantage and a danger. Here are seven strategies to ensure clear communication.

Businesswoman in panic looking at laptop1. Carefully edit and check spelling: Begin with your program’s spell-check tool, but never expect it to catch all of your mistakes. Always reread an email, and if you don’t trust yourself, send it to a colleague and ask him or her to look for mistakes. Looking at a printed draft is another good way to make sure you’re saying what you think you’re saying.

2. Avoid using HTML formatting: A formatted email is more likely to be bumped by a spam filter and can’t be read on some systems. Plain text is more effective for most email.

3. Always check your attachments: First, remember to actually attach the file if your email promises that you’re going to do that. But before you attach it, make sure it’s a PDF or a file that can be opened by the recipient’s software. If it’s a photo, make sure it’s sized appropriately so it doesn’t overwhelm the screen when it opens. And, be careful not to send attachments that are so large that they can’t be received or opened by the recipient.

thinkstockphotos-5188765914. Be cautious of stationery backgrounds: The same warnings apply here that apply to HTML and graphic attachments.

5. Scrutinize your tone: The majority of email-related misunderstandings result from misconstrued tone. For example, if you’re too direct, your reader could think you’re angry. Sarcasm and humor can also be perceived much differently than intended. A good rule of thumb for business emails is that if you need to add an emoticon or smiley face, it probably doesn’t belong in the email.

6. Include a professional signature: Your signature is a critical part of your professional business image. Use the same signature in your email that you would in a business communication.

7. If in doubt, don’t send it, especially if it reflects your emotions: It’s very easy to vent in an email, but don’t hit the Send button until you’ve had at least an hour to reflect. Then, to be sure it’s appropriate, consider showing it to a trusted colleague to get some advice about how it might be received.

If there is no one to help with proofreading an email, it is critical to read the document aloud. Actually hearing the document is the best way to double-check your email for tone and clarity.

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