Just because it’s an e-mail doesn’t excuse sloppy writing or an unprofessional approach to correspondence

Spam. E-mail chain letters. Obnoxious or off-color jokes … These are just a few things that annoy business professionals when it comes to daily e-mail. While you’re likely not sending any of these things, what if your e-mails to people are just as annoying?

Unfortunately, many people are unknowingly irritating co-workers and clients with bad e-mail etiquette and habits. Even worse, the offenders are tarnishing their reputations in the process, unaware that their correspondence reflects their personal and company image and credibility.

If you’ve ever wondered why people don’t take action on your e-mails or why this productivity tool seems to waste more of your time than it saves, you may be guilty of exhibiting a few e-mail pet peeves. Following are the top five e-mail pet peeves in the workplace. Avoid them so your e-mail messages are most effective.


1. Having sensitive conversations via e-mail.

Sensitive and emotionally charged conversations have no place in an e-mail. If you need to fire someone, express disappointment or apologize, do it face to face or at least via phone. When a topic has emotion behind it, the recipient naturally escalates that emotion when reading the e-mail. Why? Because it’s virtually impossible to display emotion in an e-mail, and humans by nature look for the worst intentions in a message rather than the best. So your innocent question of “Why did you call Mr. Smith?” gets read as an accusatory question, as if you had asked, “Why on earth did you of all people call Mr. Smith and bother him?”

Adding fuel to the fire, many people write things in an e-mail that they would never say in person. They view e-mail as a way to have “safe” conflict without being face-to-face. So they may snap back at someone in a sarcastic way or slam someone professionally or personally. If your message has any type of intense emotion behind it, don’t send the e-mail.


2. Using “reply all” versus “reply.”

Just because you were one of many recipients on a message does not mean everyone needs to hear your reply. A supervisor may send a group message out to the entire department asking who will be present at the quarterly meeting. The only person who needs to see your response is the person who initiated the message. If the group contains 100 people and each one does a “reply all” saying, “I’ll be there,” you’ll all have a cluttered inbox.

If your company requires that you do a “reply all” for business e-mails, do so. Otherwise, use the “reply all” button judiciously. And remember that with a “reply all,” everyone – even someone who was in the BCC line – will see your comments. So you never really know who is getting your message.


3. Using poor grammar and spelling.

A typo every now and then is not a big deal. However, consistent bad grammar and spelling is obnoxious. E-mail is a form of written communication, so respect the written word. Additionally, this is business, and everything you do, say, and write is a reflection of your professionalism.

When people read your messages, they naturally and automatically make a judgment about you based on your writing. If your writing is poor, everything else about you is in question. If you don’t care enough about your writing, what else don’t you care about? Your product? Your service? Remember the written word stays out there forever, and no e-mail message is ever really deleted permanently. Make sure your lasting impressions are good ones.


4. E-mailing complicated information.

If you have to give someone technical, detailed or complicated information, do it with a phone call and an e-mail as a backup rather than relying solely on e-mail communication. E-mail is best suited for short messages that don’t require a lengthy response. If your e-mail is more than a couple of paragraphs, pick up the phone and talk to the recipient. Use the follow-up e-mail to send needed documentation or a recap of your verbal instructions, but don’t expect people to read and act upon a lengthy or complicated message.

Additionally, if you are the recipient of a detailed message and need time to work on the reply, send back a short acknowledgment message that states, “I received your message and am working on the needed items.” And if the reply requires real discussion, then pick up the phone and talk about it. Don’t rely on e-mail for every topic.


5. Writing bad subject lines or not using subject lines.

Unless you’re doing e-mail marketing and relying on your messages to sell people, use straightforward subject lines that reflect the true theme of the message. Leave the cute and clever wording to the marketers. For day-to-day business purposes, plain and direct work best. So rather than have a subject line that reads, “Want to pick your brain,” write, “Need your input on the Jones project.”

Realize, too, that many people use their e-mail as a filing system, and they rely on the subject lines to find key information later. So if all your subject lines are vague or if you don’t use subject lines, people won’t know what the message was about when they search their files later. And should the e-mail’s subject change as the conversation ensues, then change the subject line to reflect the new theme.



E-mail – with instant messaging and texting coming up fast for quick communication – is now the preferred method of business correspondence. But remember, just because something is commonplace doesn’t mean you can become lazy with it. Always use e-mail properly and for the purposes and subjects it was intended. By doing so, not only will you avoid these pet peeves, but you’ll enhance your professional reputation.

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