Have you ever written an email, pushed send, and then found an embarrassing mistake? Often you don’t see that misspelled word or insensitive phrasing until it’s too late, right?
Because I’m a professional editor and proofreader, my correspondence is held to a high standard. Even when the correspondence is personal instead of professional, it’s important to remember how easy it is for a recipient to misunderstand an email that isn’t clear and concise.
I’d love to share a few tricks I’ve learned that can save you from making those embarrassing gaffes in the first place:
- Compose in draft mode. Accidently pushing “send” before you’ve finished writing isn’t too awful when you’re sending a quick note to a friend, but it can be quite embarrassing when you’re writing a business letter or other important correspondence (trust me—I learned the hard way). One way to avoid sending a partially composed email is by leaving the “to” box empty until after you finish composing your message. Another it to draft emails in your word processing program and then use the copy/paste function to insert an error-free message into an email when ready. If you simply must compose a response to an email in “reply” mode, at least remove all addresses from the “to” box until you’re confident your message is error-free.
- Always proofread what you’ve written. We often type quickly and compose as we go. Take an extra minute to reread what you’ve typed before sending correspondence on its way. Most of us have received messages sent by phone or tablet that make no sense thanks to autocorrect, voice-to-text, or spell check (“Don’t forget to bring your rocket” when you mean “racquet”), but simply taking a minute to review your message can actually save time by avoiding several back-and-forth clarification messages.
- Look carefully for use of the wrong word. Homophones are words that sound alike but are spelled differently—such as here/hear, to/two/too, and complement/compliment—and are some of the most common mistakes I see in emails and other writing. Autocorrect usually won’t help you here because these are all real words and only misspelled when used incorrectly. These mistakes are easy to make but also easy to avoid: if you’re not absolutely sure you’re using the correct one, take a second and look up the meaning of the word you’ve chosen. (I cringe every time I proofread my own emails and discover I used “you’re” when I meant “your.”)
- Proofread aloud. Voice every word, even if you’re only whispering to yourself. Reading aloud (not “allowed”; see #3) will help you find errors as well as sentences that might not make sense.
- Proofread again after making any changes. Have you ever received an email that ends with “Thanks you” instead of “Thank you”? The writer probably decided that “Thanks” was too informal, added “you,” and then forgot to change the first word. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve typed “Thank your” because my fingers are flying across the keyboard; sometimes they forget to wait for my brain to catch up, and they automatically add that “r.”
- Double check the recipient’s name. My first name, Candace, isn’t especially unusual, but there are several alternate ways to spell it. Even though I use an email signature for all my professional correspondence, I still receive reply emails that begin with “Dear Candice” or “Dear Candance.” I have to applaud them for following Tip #1, but just a quick verification would tell them they too have flying fingers. Before you send an email, verify the spelling of the recipient’s name to avoid addressing Christina as Christiana or Kristin or Kristina.
- Don’t inadvertently expose someone’s email address. Have you ever received an email addressed to dozens of people you don’t know? How do you feel about having your email address available to everyone on that list? There’s a simple solution to make sure you aren’t the one who shares all those email addresses: use the “bcc” option. When I’m emailing the same information to several clients, I address it to myself as the primary recipient and then bcc everyone else. That way only my email address is visible to all the addressees—no one knows who the others are or how many people I’ve sent the email to, and everyone’s privacy is protected.
- Verify all names on group lists. Using lists for emailing the same group people is a wonderful timesaver … but if your book club is planning a surprise birthday party for one of the members and she’s on that list, she won’t be very surprised! Make sure you aren’t sending your message to people who shouldn’t see it, and also be sure everyone who should be on that list is included. On a related note, double check that you aren’t just replying to one person if you mean to reply to the group, or vice versa.
- Send a test email. If you’re sending an important email, consider sending it to yourself first as a test. If you’ve made any of the mistakes we’ve discussed, you’re more likely to see them when viewing in the format your recipient receives. If you addressed it to John Smith but your salutation is “Welcome home, Mary!” chances are you’ll catch it when you read it from the recipient’s point of view. To add another layer of assurance, print it out and read it aloud.
- If including an attachment, attach it before you begin writing the email. It’s easy to forget attachments in your eagerness to push send on your perfectly proofread email. This tip is a timesaver because you won’t have to follow up with an apology email when you realize you forgot the attachment in the initial correspondence. (Confession: I’ve had to write those apologies more than a couple of times. It’s embarrassing.
Have you made any embarrassing email faux pas? I hope you’ll share your email stories in the comments!
(Originally appeared on SixtyandMe.com)
Candace Johnson is a professional freelance editor, proofreader, writer, and writing coach for fiction and nonfiction. She works with traditional publishers, self-published authors, and independent book packagers. As an editorial specialist, Candace is passionate about offering her clients the opportunity to take their work to the next level. Learn more at her website https://changeitupediting.com, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.