Common email writing mistakes (and what to do instead)
Just as every email is an opportunity for professional growth, there’s also the potential to fall into common email writing bad habits. Here are eight mistakes to avoid:
1 Omitting necessary Oxford commas
The Oxford comma can be somewhat polarizing when thinking about how to write a proper email, depending on which style guide is utilized for professional communications in your industry —it’s usually either shunned or hailed as a tool for clarification. Either way, a lot of people have strong opinions about it. But leaving them out can lead to confusion, depending on the sentence.
What to do instead: While the Oxford comma may not be suitable in certain contexts, it’s usually a good idea to use them in emails. That’s because it can help you save time and avoid miscommunication, confusion, and even legal trouble.
2 our 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.
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).
4 Being too casual (or 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.
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
Method: We searched for terms used by our users based on our most popular blog articles.
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.
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 the most commonly repeated words to avoid:
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. we can also help you catch these repeated or overused words.
7 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 copy chief Schafer.
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.”
8 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 the most common sentences and words people use with exclamation points in emails:
Have a great weekend!
Have a great day!
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.