Conversation happens quickly, and that can often result in an unexpected error of faux pas. While a slip of the tongue may be more common, email errors happen often as well. If you want to avoid those awkward mistakes, do what I do: ask yourself these five questions before hitting send.
Did I spell the recipient’s name correctly in the body of the email?
People have varied spellings of their name. For example, apparently Bank of America thinks my name is spelled Adams. Is that a name? Not that I’m aware of. Nevertheless, it took seven years to convince them otherwise. You probably won’t offend people with a name typo, but you might. Even if you don’t, it’s nice to show you can take the five seconds to make sure you addressed your recipient properly. Unless they’re a (good) friend who won’t care, provide of common courtesy of proofreading their name (if not the entire message).
Are my greeting and closing appropriate?
You can start off an email in several ways. I usually pick “hey” or “hi” because I’m a casual guy, but not all messages deserve a common greeting. Furthermore, the way you end your message matters as well. I usually say “thanks” or “thank you,” but sometimes it’s kind of strange to thank someone when you have, for example, just provided advice or wished them a happy birthday—a closing and opening in its own right. “Cheers,” “Best,” “Best regards,” and so on are all appropriate closings, but consider what fits your message. It’s easy to get in the habit of using the same greeting and closing in all cases, but you ought to be aware of the mood they set for your message. Closing with “Best” or “Best Regards” to a close friend seems distant, but closing with “Cheers!” to a stranger—in some cases, but not all—may come across as a little too casual. Don’t stress over it, but pay it a quick consideration before you press send.
Is my email 300 words of less, or do I have an exceptionally good reason for using more words?
Concision matters more than almost anything in an email if you aren’t sure it will be read. Even in the case with people you know it can matter. When you want something, keep it brief! Most people can handle a 300 word message that gets right to the point. I’ve yet to meet anyone who prefers longer, detailed emails they didn’t explicitly request or who would rather read longer, flowery sentences over those that get right to the point. You can be short and sweet, after all.
Did I write anything pointless or counterproductive in the message?
Yes, you probably did. First drafts of emails, important or not, generally contain superfluous information. Sometimes that information can hurt you if you’re asking for a favor or just hoping for a response. Before you hit send, you should always give your message a quick once-over to see if you have any statements that seem unnecessary or counterproductive. Not only will this help you trim the fat down to 300 words or less (as suggested above), but you can avoid accidentally making a statement that might stray from your point. Under most circumstances, your messages should stick to a single subject if you want a reply. The more your email resembles a to-do list and less a simple task, the more likely the recipient will groan and forget about it—even if they like you.
When talking about other people, or a personal moment, would I care if my statements were public?
We live in a time when hackers hack for no good reason whatsoever. We also interact with other humans, who may accidentally stumble on an email left open or snoop because they suck at respecting privacy. Whatever the case may be, when you write something you commit it to a nearly permanent record—at least, once you hit send. If you don’t want other people to know your inner-most thoughts, think twice before sending them to someone. You never know where they may end up. Case in point: Nick Denton and Brian Williams.
Don’t Stress Yourself into Inaction
After reading those five questions and their explanations, you might think asking yourself these questions causes more trouble than it’s worth. You just want to send an email after all, not a polished essay. This is an article, so I wanted to give a thorough explanation so you know the reasons why these questions can help you. When you actually ask them, or consider them, you can do it a minute or two. You may love your precious minutes, but a little proofreading and editing can save you more of them down the line. (With that said, let’s hope I don’t have too many typos in this post!)