June 3, 2015

Career AdviceProfessional Development

Avoid These Common Email Mistakes

By: Roger Custer

email-mistakesEmail is today’s preferred method of communication. It often speeds delivery, simplifies projects, and saves money. However, there are common mistakes you can avoid by spending a few extra minutes thinking through how, why, and what you are sending over email. Avoid these common errors and you will be on your way to professional success.


1. No Proofing
Spell check does not catch every error because some words mean more than one thing or might be correct in other contexts. Always spend a few extra minutes re-reading your email before you send. I receive emails almost daily that have some kind of capitalization, grammar, punctuation, or vocabulary error – most of which could have been fixed by a few minutes of proofreading. The recipient will notice when you have taken time to think through your email before sending.

2. Wrong Sender
One of the biggest mistakes I ever made was an email sent as a reply instead of a forward to someone else. I did not take a few seconds to double check the recipient and sent a negative comment about someone directly to that person instead of to my colleague as I had intended. The best way to avoid this is to never send negativity or inappropriate comments (see point 4). However, if you send something like that, make sure the recipient is correct. Note that every email you send can be forwarded. Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, emailed a memo that he intended for the inner management circle that was infamously leaked.

3. Too Long
Some issues are better discussed over the phone or in person given their complexity. Additionally, the tone of an email is sometimes misinterpreted whereas an in-person or phone conversation is easier to interpret. If you can’t express your thought or action item in less than 4-5 paragraphs, consider calling or talking to the person before you waste time typing a long email.

4. Sensitive Subject
Some issues are better left to in-person and phone communications because there may be legal liability for written communications or you may regret sending it if your views change or you were worked up at a certain moment to say something you wish later that you did not say at all, especially not in writing.

5. Prolific Copying
While it is important to copy relevant colleagues on some emails, please do not copy wider than necessary. When you copy someone, remember that you are using their time to read the message. Additionally, never copy a list of people in the cc: field. You violate people’s privacy when you put a list of people in the cc: field. The only time to do that is if you have their permission to copy them because they were part of a networking retreat or group of people who have consented.


Roger Custer is executive director of America’s Future Foundation.