Career Advice

7 Common Email Mistakes (and What to Do Instead)

Pensive businessmann sitting on stairs looking at cell phone

Just as every email is an opportunity for professional growth, there’s also the potential to fall into common bad habits. Here are eight mistakes to avoid:

1. Hedging

Grammarly users know that when it comes to hedging, it’s better to omit it than leave it in, especially in emails. And if you’re worried about coming off as impolite, don’t be. Contrary to popular belief, hedging language makes you sound less confident, which can ultimately undermine your writing.

What to do instead: State your idea or opinion, then explain the “why” behind your reasoning. That way, you’ll be better understood and your brilliance can shine through.

2. Extremely Long and/or Unclear Copy

Would you read an email that was 1,000 words long? Probably not — most people skim emails that are on the long side. And if you add hard-to-follow sentences or mixed messages to your draft, you’re even less likely to get a satisfactory response. (Or any response.)

“I get a ton of [emails] that are just these huge blocks of text. And I understand why they do that — so you have enough detail. But it’s really hard to read and I’m not going to read the whole thing,” says Kat Boogaard, a Wisconsin-based freelance writer.

What to do instead: Keep it concise and focus on the matter at hand. Then end with a call to action, a requested response date and make it clear that you’re open to questions and follow-ups (if that’s the case).

3. Being Too Casual (or Too Formal)

Depending on your circumstances, wavering too much to the casual or formal side of writing can be a misstep. Being overly casual is often seen as a rookie mistake, but stiff, formal language can also be detrimental to your message.

What to do instead: In striking the perfect balance between formal and casual, the key is thinking about the relationship between yourself and the recipient and take social cues as your communication progresses.

“You kind of want to see what someone else is doing and participate, play along, sort of acknowledge the way communication develops and the way expectations in a relationship develop,” says Dan Post Senning, an etiquette expert at the Emily Post Institute.

Here’s a tip: While GIFs and emojis can be great for creating a sense of comradery between coworkers, these can be seen as overly casual in many contexts.

“Be careful in new relationships. The intelligent use of emoticons in emails can help you be more understood. At the same time, a lot of people will read it as unprofessional, so until you’ve established that relationship, you want to be careful with how you use it. Take care and think about it,” says Post Senning.

4. Cliches

Not all email cliches are cardinal sins. Certain aspects of your emails are bound to be a little formulaic. After all, most emails have the same basic structure, and there are phrases that you may use to ensure clarity or cover your bases. But if you’re going to repeat phrases, make sure they have a clear purpose.

As Kiera Wright-Ruiz, a social media manager at Google’s Local Guides puts it, “Even though I always repeat, ‘please let me know if you have any questions,’ I actually do want to know if they have questions.”

However, most of the time, you’ll want to edit out cliches whenever possible since they can make people tune out. Here are the top seven to avoid:

  • Please find attached
  • Thank you in advance
  • I look forward to hearing from you
  • Per our conversation
  • I hope you are doing well
  • To whom it may concern
  • Sorry for the late reply

What to do instead: Try reading the draft for cliches, tone and voice to more effectively communicate your message while keeping the reader engaged. Ask yourself: If your boss (or mom) read this email, would you be happy with it? If the answer is yes, then you’re on the right track.

5. Repetition

People often repeat words within the same paragraph, twice in two sentences or just too close together to go unnoticed. While it’s not the worst offense, it’s another thing that can make a reader tune out.

Here are a few of the most commonly repeated words to avoid:

  • Only
  • Account
  • Like
  • Always
  • Issue
  • Information
  • Item

What to do instead: Try reading your draft out loud, using the text-to-speech function on your phone, or running it by a colleague before sending it off. Grammarly can also help you catch these repeated or overused words.

6. Robotic Language

Email may be a descendant of snail mail, but that doesn’t mean your messages should sound like an old-timey version of yourself. In fact, emails should sound like the person who is writing it. So using phrases that sound like something out of a Victorian novel isn’t the best move if you want to connect with the reader.

“Let’s face it: Nobody wants to read a college textbook. You want to read a blog or an article or a real conversation. They’re a person, they’re not a robot. So use language that sounds like something you would say if you’re just sitting in a coffee shop,” says Cole Schafer, founder and copy chief of Honey Copy.

What to do instead: You can get a more natural effect by pretending you’re writing to a friend or having a conversation with a friendly acquaintance. For example, you probably wouldn’t say something like, “Greetings” and “I hope the weather is fair where you are” if you were meeting someone for coffee. You’d say something like, “Hi” and “Thanks again for your time.”

7. Overuse of Exclamation Points!

Enthusiasm is great. But in certain contexts, the overuse of exclamation points can do more harm than good. This is especially true if you’re forging a new relationship or contacting someone outside of your company. You are, after all, a representative of your work when you use a company email address. But people love exclamation points, and they’re still something that many people rely on to convey a positive tone.

For example, here are some of the most common sentences and words people use with exclamation points in emails:

  • Thanks!
  • Hello!
  • Have a great day!
  • Good morning!

What to do instead: After you’ve written your draft, do a quick search for exclamation points and use your judgment to determine which (if any) to keep based on your relationship with the recipient. As a general rule, try to keep it to one or two per email with colleagues.

Related Links:

A version of this article was originally published on Grammarly. It is reprinted with permission.

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