1. You send emails without a subject line. Stop it. People need subject lines. It helps them prioritize their inbox and find messages later. Always make sure you have one – no exceptions. Keep them short (ideally 5 words or less), specific, and meaningful to both you and the reader.
2. When you send simple requests via email, the recipient usually writes back with a bunch of questions. You aren’t giving the recipient enough context for the request. People like to know why they are being asked to do something. You also have to put yourself in their shoes by considering their knowledge level on the topic. What other details might they need to know in order to fulfill this request? What questions might they have? Preemptively addressing these details saves a lot of back and forth (a.k.a. distraction) later.
3. When you send an email to a group, it results in an avalanche of emails. Either you didn’t give enough context (as described in #2) or you broached a topic that shouldn’t have ever been introduced by email. Not that meetings don’t have their pitfalls, but they can be a much better forum for kicking off new initiatives, discussing complex problems, or any other topic requiring a healthy exchange of dialogue.
4. You regularly misspell the recipient’s name. If you’re this careless with his or her name, you’re probably careless with the rest of your email, too. Pay attention.
5. Your emails consist of one long paragraph. Yes, this depends on how each person pulls up the email, but if your paragraphs are longer than five sentences, you’re probably in the danger zone. Don’t make your coworkers’ eyes glaze over…make sure you only have one thought per paragraph.
6. You don’t tell people why you are writing to them…until the end of your email. Don’t make people wade through sentence after sentence – wondering where it’s all headed. Tell them why you are reaching out in the first sentence or two and then follow up with the details.
7. You always use “reply all.” Just because you have the option doesn’t mean it’s always appropriate to use…in fact, it’s not. For example, don’t use “reply all” to send personal messages or to point out someone’s mistake. The key is to be thoughtful and intentional about where you are directing your message.
8. Your emails have some sort of wallpaper or cutesy background effect. Get rid of it. You have plenty of opportunities to show your personality at work – this isn’t one of them. These effects are distracting to your reader. Plus, they often screw up the formatting of the whole email trail, which is super frustrating for anyone trying to respond to you.
9. When you email a group of people, you have a hard time getting a response. Take a look at one of those emails. Did you direct it to a specific person, or did you send it to the whole group in hopes that someone would be proactive and respond? If it’s the latter, you’re setting yourself up for failure every time. Eliminate the ambiguity. Address your email to someone.
10. You’re “too busy” to proofread. Reading over your email at least once before hitting “send” isn’t optional. It’s important to give yourself an opportunity to catch potentially embarrassing, confusing typos and grammatical errors, as well as make sure your finished work actually hangs together. (And did you include your attachments?)
Let’s be kind to our coworkers by minimizing the sour, frustrating “email lemons” we’re putting out there. This list is a great start in identifying our problem spots, so share it around the office and let me know what you’d like to add to it!