Common Email Mistakes – and How To Avoid Them

I read a very interesting article in U.S. News and World Report (Andrew G. Rosen, January 18, 2011) regarding common mistakes with email.  Email has been around so long I think we all get a bit complacent with sending messages; following these tips and tricks, we may do a much better job of communicating, getting respect from our peers and coworkers, and possibly even landing a job.


Sending before you mean to. Enter the recipient’s email address only when your email is ready to be sent. This helps reduce the risk of an embarrassing misfire, such as sending an important email to the wrong person or emailing a half-written note.

Thought from Kim:  How many times have you received an email meant for someone else or sent one by mistake to the wrong recipient because an autofill option is turned on in your email program?  Please make sure you're sending your email to the correct person.  If you would like to delete or turn off the autofill option in email, please come by the computer help desk or call.

Forgetting the attachment. If your email includes an attachment, upload the file to the email before composing it. This eliminates the embarrassing mistake of forgetting it before hitting “send,” and having to send another email saying you forgot to attach the document.

Thought from Kim:  Boy, is this one embarrassing; I've done this more than I care to admit.  For now on, I will be sure to attach the attachment immediately before writing the email, then populating the "to" field.

Expecting an instant response. Don’t send an email and show up at the recipient’s desk 30 seconds later asking if they’ve received it. They did, and they’ll answer at their convenience. That’s the point of email.

Thought from Kim:  It's hard to imagine, but it's not all about us.  If you need an immediate response, make a phone call or show up in person.

Forwarding useless emails. I’ve never seen a single email forward at work that was beneficial. Whether it’s a silly joke or a heartwarming charity, there’s never a time to share an email forward using your work email.

Thought from Kim:  I can't say I totally agree with the author; sometimes we're forwarded emails because we were left off of the original one, or maybe you have learned information that may be beneficial to someone else.  Good point not withstanding, don't forward every email in your inbox €¦ try to think of your audience before sharing email.  Would they really appreciate it as much as you do?

Not reviewing all new messages before replying. When you return to the office after a week or more away, review all new emails before firing off responses. It might be hard to accept, but odds are, things did march on without you. Replying to something that was already handled by a co-worker creates extra communication, which can lead to confusion, errors, and at the very least, wasted time for everyone involved.

Thought from Kim:  This can sometimes be difficult, not because someone else has solved the issue, but the way email lands in your inbox.  If you notice a string of email with the same subject line, it's easy to sort email by subject (versus date which is typically the default).  Read the email from the newest date first; you may find the situation is resolved, and you've saved yourself time by not having to handle a question or problem.

Including your email signature again and again. Nor do you need to include it at the end of an email you send to your long-time co-worker who sits six feet away. If you have your email program set to automatically generate a signature with each new message, take a second to delete it when communicating with someone who knows who you are. It’s always wise to include your phone number, but the entire blurb with your title and mailing address is often nothing but clutter.

Thought from Kim:  I found this tip interesting, simply because I have never found myself annoyed by someone's signature line (I simply ignore it mostly).  However, I think it's a point well taken and if this helps others have a happier email experience, then the few seconds it takes to delete my signature line may be worthwhile.

Composing the note too quickly. Don’t be careless; write every email as if it will be read at Saint Peter’s Square during the blessing of a new Pope. Be respectful with your words and take pride in every communication.

Thought from Kim:  Proofreading is an awesome thing.  Not foolproof, but awesome.

Failing to include basic greetings. Simple pleasantries do the trick. Say “hi” at the start of the message and “thanks” at the end. Be sure to use the recipient’s name. Be polite yet brief with your courtesy.

Thought from Kim:  Another thought, too – email is not text messaging.  I get that typing out whole words on a text with a tiny keyboard on a cell phone can be very time consuming (and I will excuse your using "u" vs. typing the word "you," or texting "thx" vs. thanks).  However, it appears lazy and feels disrespectful to the recipient of the email if you don't take the time to spell out words.  No one should ever be too busy to be respectful.

Emailing when you’re angry. Don’t do it. Ever. Recall buttons are far from a perfect science, and sending a business email tainted by emotion is often a catastrophic mistake. It sounds cliche, but sleep on it. Save the message as a draft and see if you still want to send it the next morning.

Thought from Kim:  "Don't do it.  Ever."  I think that sums it up.

Underestimating the importance of the subject line. The subject line is your headline. Make it interesting, and you’ll increase the odds of getting the recipient’s attention. Our inboxes are cluttered; you need to be creative and direct to help the recipient cut through the noise. You should consistently use meaningful and descriptive subject lines. This will help your colleagues determine what you’re writing about and build your “inbox street cred,” which means important messages are more likely to be read.

Thought from Kim:  Pet peeve?  Blank subject lines.  I can sometimes look at subject lines in my inbox and make quick decisions which emails need more immediate attention than others.  Blank ones may be the last I look at.

Using incorrect subject lines. Change the subject line if you’re changing the topic of conversation. Better yet, start a new email thread.

Thought from Kim:  If the subject originally was about one thing, and you're replying all to the same group of people about something else, PLEASE change the subject line so we know we're not beating down the same subject (we've all been guilty of this).

Sending the wrong attachment. If you double-check an attachment immediately before sending and decide that you need to make changes, don’t forget to update the source file. Making corrections to the version that’s attached to the email does not often work, and it can lead to different versions of the same doc floating around.

Thought from Kim:  Ah, the cousin of not attaching the document.  Take a few moments to make sure you're attaching what needs to be attached.

Relying too much on email. News flash! No one is sitting around staring at their inbox waiting for your email. If something is urgent, use another means of communication. A red “rush” exclamation point doesn’t compare to getting up from your desk and conducting business in person.

Thought from Kim:  This goes back to the point above; if the situation is urgent, use a better tool than email.

Hitting “reply all” unintentionally. This is a biggie. And it’s not just embarrassing; depending on what you wrote in that email, it can ruin your relationship with a co-worker or even your boss. Take extra care whenever you respond so you don’t hit this fatal button.

Thought from Kim:  Been there, done this, too.  It's easy in our multitasking world to not pay attention to the smallest detail – unfortunately, it's the smallest detail that sometimes have the biggest bite.

Have a great email tip or trick?  Let us know!

Leave a Reply