When email is something we use every day, it’s easy to miss some of the silly things we do that prevent us from using it as effectively as possible, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Skipping the basics like forgotten attachments, this list covers email usage crimes you might not even know you’re committing.
Attaching the wrong thing
Forgetting an attachment is sort of annoying, but easily remedied. Sending the wrong attachment, however, is not so easy to fix. There are two questions to ask yourself about attachments: Is it the correct document? And is it the correct version? Your face would be mighty red if you send confidential information to a person outside your organization simply because you didn’t send the appropriate document. When it comes to versioning, suppose you sent an old version of a document to someone and they used dated information to write another document—that’s a problem, and one you might not notice until it’s too late. Make sure you’re sending the correct document and the latest version.
Not answering every question in the email
This one makes me want to go all “Incredible Hulk” on people. If someone asks you three questions, don’t answer only one. This shows them that either A. you didn’t read the whole email, B. you don’t know, C. you don’t care, or D. all of the above. Make sure you’re answering all the questions in an email you receive. If you don’t know the answer, tell them you’ll find out or find someone who can answer the question.
Using obnoxious signatures
If your signature has your picture, your title, your company, your cat’s photo, a quote in pink comic sans, and your phone number, all in a font that’s larger than the rest of your message, you need to make some changes. Signatures are fine, they can be both helpful and tasteful. But gaudy, loud ones will make you look like a clown. Are you a clown? I didn’t think so—tune that bad-boy up.
Note: There are exceptions. If you are, in fact, a clown by trade, comic sans and cat pictures might be highly appropriate.
Answering without understanding
In our haste to stay on top of our inboxes, it’s easy for us to read quickly, gloss over important details, and respond in a way that doesn’t make sense to the sender of the original message. You ought to be pretty sure you know what you’re talking about before your reply, and if you require clarification, ask for it. You’ll muddy waters if you start making assumptions.
Replying before you should
Sometimes you just need to think about things before you respond, or to wait for some things to settle. It’s not uncommon for an email to anger you, catch you off guard, or cause you to make assumptions about what it means. If you need to cool off or stew about an answer for a bit, do it. Few emails are so urgent that they require an immediate response.
Marking everything as high priority
Speaking of urgency, how often is an email really high priority? Once in a while, sure, but if you send everything with little red exclamation points marking them as “urgent,” you’ll end up being the person who cried wolf. When you really have urgent news, nobody will be able to distinguish that from the super important cat video you sent earlier, so use caution when marking things urgent.
Using long or irrelevant subject lines
Be concise and relevant. Odd, long, or misleading subject lines might get your message deleted before anybody even sees it.
Using non-standard templates
I subscribe to a handful of newsletters, some of which (looking at you, Storage Newsletter) change the color of the background of your entire email thread when you forward it to a colleague. This causes you to send text he or she can barely read because of the dark background. Sometimes a company will use email templates for all employees that cause this same problem. If your template affects you recipient’s ability to digest the information in your email, you should strongly consider changing it.
The list of email faux pas could go longer than we’ve got space for, but which email no-nos get you the most fired up? Share in the comments or on Twitter.
Casey Morgan is the marketing content specialist at StorageCraft. U of U graduate and lover of words, his experience lies in construction and writing, but his approach to both is the same: start with a firm foundation, build a quality structure, and then throw in some style. If he’s not arguing about comma usage or reading, you'll likely find him and his Labrador hiking, biking, or playing outdoors -- he's even known to strum a few chords by the campfire. [email protected]