As far as digital-era communiques go, none share the ubiquity of good, old-fashioned email. Everyone partakes in email. In fact, according to data gathered by The Radicati Group, a tech-centric market research firm, we collectively fire off nearly 270 billion emails per day. Writing emails is such a hard-wired, baked-in part of everyday life that it, like walking and talking and breathing, should be second-nature for everyone by now. In other words, there’s no excuse for drafting an email incorrectly.
And yet, many emails are rife with faults. (I’d wager that, of those 270 billion, a solid 260 billion fall into this category.) Meek subject lines, disingenuous salutations, ill-advised font choices—oh, and don’t even get me started on the double space (or the double hyphen). Yes, there’re a lot of things you can screw up in the email-writing process. Herein, you’ll find the most frequent offenders—and learn how to fix them, too. Where there was no excuse before, there’s really no excuse now. And for more amazing office-life advice, learn the 25 Genius Ways to Conquer Office Burnout.
You’re signing off with anything but “best.”
Sincerely. Thanks. All my best. Or simply nothing at all. There are countless email sign-offs to choose from. But by using many of the common ones, like those four, you risk coming off as too formal, too cold, too faux-sincere, or too aloof (respectively). Play it safe by sticking to the time-tested Best. According to Patricia Napier-Fitzpatrick, it works for any and every situation, and lands right in center of the formal-informal Venn diagram. In short, it’s your best bet.
You’re using extraneous words in chains.
Once a conversation gets underway, there’s no need for hi or dear or thanks or best. (Doubly so if you work in a close-knit office, where conversation is more than just a water-cooler necessity.) Salutations and valedictions just clutter your email and interrupt the flow of conversation. Start each chain with them, for sure, but ditch them as soon as you can.
You’re going way over word count.
According to a study of 40 million business emails, conducted by the folks at Boomerang, the productivity app, there’s a perfect length to sales emails. For maximum efficacy, make sure your email is no shorter than 50 words and no longer than 125. (Yes, that includes the four to six words you use for his and byes.) And for more ways to master the art of electronic messaging, learn the 17 Genius Email Hacks That Will Improve Your Life.
To instantly age yourself, put two spaces at the end of every sentence. The double-space—a practice you’ll only see these days in emails from lawyers, doctors, and your grandparents—originated as a typesetting mandate in the 19th century. Back in those days, ink could blotch, and periods might not make it to the final print run. The extra space served as a cushion of clarity, so to speak, to ensure that a reader would know, for certain, that a sentence was over.
A digitally-functional era has no need for the double space whatsoever. In fact, publishing houses, newspaper, and magazines phased out the practice of double-spacing back in the 1940s, after the advent of IBM’s Executive, a top-tier typewriter. Folks, it’s 2018. You should be spacing out your sentences like. This.
Not. Like. This.
The em-dash (one of these: —) is the thing you’re trying to make. Hit the shift, alt, and the hyphen (this one: -) keys at the same time.
You’re using the wrong mobile signature.
Surely you’ve seen some cringe-worthy email signatures, most of which tend to come from the always-working crowd. (“Sent from mobile. Please forgive any tpyos,” is a classic.) Don’t make the same pitfalls. If you’re firing off an email from the road, just say that—literally. According to Ben Dattner, an executive coach, the best mobile email signature you can have is as simple as: “Sent from the road.” It’s clear, effective, and even comes with the added bonus of evoking an air of Kerouac-like nonchalance.
You’re copy-pasting wrong.
If you’re copying text from an external source—a Word document or an Excel spreadsheet, say—you’ll want to clear any formatting before hitting send. Otherwise, your text will show up in the recipient’s inbox all jumbled up. To clear formatting, if you’re one of the billions of Gmail users, highlight the text you need scrubbed and hit the little “TX” box. You’ll find that at the very right of the formatting options toolbar. (That’s the button that looks like this: A.)
You’re definitely writing OOO messages wrong.
As Jane Scudder, a professor at Loyala University Chicago’s business school, advises, there’s one and only one format to follow when you’re drafting an out-of-office message:
Thanks for your email. I’m OOO from Tuesday, June 12th through Friday, June 15th without access to email. If this is urgent, please contact [THE PERSON WHO’S BELOW YOU ON THE CHAIN OF COMMAND—or, if you have one, YOUR SOON-TO-BE-INUNDATED-WITH-EMAILS ASSISTANT’S NAME] at [THEIR EMAIL ADDRESS]. Otherwise, I will respond to all messages when I return.
For nitpick-level details, like whether to end the message on your last day out or your first day back—or whether to include a phone number of not—just consult our frankly too comprehensive guide on the matter.
You’re screwing up attachments.
Never drag and drop image attachments into an email. During the process, you could the image’s dimensions or file size, meaning your recipient could receive a lower resolution (ugly and pixelated) version of the photo. Instead, direct yourself to the paper clip icon in your email, and find and upload the file that way.
You’re not hyperlinking.
Throwing URLs haphazardly into the body of an email is ugly, cumbersome, and, above all, easy to fix. Just highlight the text you want hyperlinked, hit command-K, and paste the URL into the field that pops up. Then, your text will look like this.
You’re using too many periods.
Language evolves over time—but I’m not only referring to words with mercurial meanings, or transient phrases that have been lost to history. Punctuation changes too. Take the period, for instance. For centuries, it signified that a sentence is over, and nothing else. It was utterly devoid of any substance or emotion beyond that.
But these days, as researchers at both Binghamton and Rutgers Universities have noted, ending a sentence in a period can come off as, at best, curt or, at worst, angry. (Though you don’t need science to tell you that every “That’s fine.” or “No.” you receive feels like a sleight.) So, unless it’s a formal email, minimize your period usage. Use less-harsh punctuation—em-dashes, ellipses, commas, colons, and semicolons—to string together your thoughts.
You’re doing subject lines all wrong.
Most desktop email inboxes cut off the subject line display at 60 characters. On smartphones, however, that display is cut off at a character count as low as 25, depending on the device. (Larger screens, like those on the iPhone 8 Plus, will show up to 30 characters.) To ensure your entire subject line is read, keep things short and sweet. Oh, and don’t forget to fill it out. Few things are more circumspect than receiving a “(no subject)” email from a stranger.
You’re using the wrong font.
Helvetica is banal. Times New Roman is haughty. Comic Sans is….just, no. When drafting emails, stick to the basic: Sans Serif. It’s unfussy and easy to read. Plus, the font renders on every web browser, so your message will be delivered as intended, with all font stylization intact (italics, bold, underline—that sort of thing), to your recipient.
You’re shoving everything into one paragraph.
Clumping all of your text together is unsightly and, depending on how much you’re saying, disorganized—to a confusing degree. Follow this rule: every paragraph should have one point, and every point deserves its own paragraph (even if it’s just one sentence). Break up your text accordingly.
You’re making typos.
You’re better than that.
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