Common Work Email Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Common Work Email Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

April 9, 2020 9:11 am

Work email is an incredibly powerful tool for reaching a large number of people in a split second. Unfortunately, it can also be a recipe for disaster. The impulsive decision to put everyone in ‘cc’ could actually mean the difference between keeping your job and being dismissed in the most extreme circumstances. So, for the sake of your employment, make sure to look out for and avoid these common mistakes in your professional emails.

1. Unnecessarily using ‘Reply All’

You’ve probably been a victim of the dreaded accidental ‘reply all,’ when a response that is aimed for one individual in particular goes out to the whole company or team. This is a leading cause of conflict and embarrassment surrounding work emails because confidential information can suddenly be shared with an entire list of individuals. To prevent this from happening, avoid the ‘reply all’ function unless you really mean it, and check your ‘to,’ ‘cc,’ and ‘bcc’ boxes carefully before hitting send.

2. Using lingo and abbreviations that people don’t understand

This is a classic work email fail. We use business terms so readily with coworkers that we forget that some people in the email chain may be clueless about the word or phrase.

“Let’s all turn on our VPNs today. This is the best way to protect our online privacy.”


This is where soft skills make a difference. Review the list of email recipients and ask yourself, “Does everyone I’m sending the email to know what ‘VPNs’ are?” When in doubt, spell out the acronyms and expound.

Try this: “Let’s all activate our virtual private networks today. This is the best way to protect our online privacy. For those who may not know, virtual private networks are software that encrypts the data between your browser and the internet server. Your subscription includes one already.”

3. Sending a novel

Work emails that span to three screens rarely get the desired response. At best, they complicate matters; at worst, they’re sent to the trash. Keep emails short if you can. In fact, email isn’t always the best channel for discussing complicated problems. Next time you find yourself drafting a message for 20-30 minutes, try calling the recipient. If that’s not an option, draft a concise email that focuses on the matter at hand and ends with a requested response date plus a call-to-action.

4. Writing a vague subject line

Vague or unclear subject lines, such as one-word subjects, also put your message at risk of being seen as spam. Caps are another thing to avoid as they can be perceived as the equivalent of someone screaming in your ear. Ouch! Moreover, too many words in the subject line may cause the recipient to neglect your message completely because they can’t figure out the main reason behind your email. The most effective way to ensure your message is read is to use a clear subject line that highlights the key points that you want the recipient to know (remember, the majority of email programs in existence show only the first 50 characters of the subject line).

5. Going overboard with exclamation point

Too many exclamation marks can make you come off as inexperienced. While it’s perfectly fine to use one for greetings (“Have a great day!”), exclamation points don’t tend to come off as professional in the body of an email. Avoid using exclamation marks in strongly-worded sentences so your tone appears appropriate and polite.

6. Being robotic

The advent of email moved us away from the flowery or formal language of old time snail mail, but that doesn’t mean that email should be be totally devoid of personality. Instead, messages should sound like the individual who is composing them. You can incorporate your natural voice by imagining that you’re having a friendly conversation with an acquaintance.

7. Forgetting to attach a document/file

How many times have you sent an email message, only to see that you didn’t attach the file you were supposed to? To address this, you probably then do a follow-up apologizing and attaching the required document, which can make you seem unprofessional and/or forgetful.

There are two ways to minimize this risk: 1) attach any document/file first before composing the email 2) make a habit of double-checking the attachment before hitting the send button, so you are not sending the wrong document or the wrong version of it.

8. Saving the most important information for last

A common work email mistake is to state your intention at the very end of the email, which kills the purpose of the outreach. The solution? Put your main point or ‘ask’ at the beginning of the message. It’s okay to start the email with some polite small talk (“How’s everything on your end?”). But once you’re done with the pleasantries, get to the point. For example, “I’m writing to discuss a mutually-beneficial agreement between our stores as the busy shopping season nears.” Put the “lead” at the beginning of the email where it’s obvious.

9. Making grammatical errors

It can be easy to ignore grammar, formatting and spelling when sending out work emails because it’s such a fast-paced means of outreach. However, an email riddled with typos risks the recipient losing trust in the sender or not paying attention to the content of the message. Even if you’re in a hurry, take the time to double-check your drafts for these types of mistakes. A pro tip is to install the Grammarly extension. This extension will automatically highlight the grammatical errors in your email so you can fix mistakes and draft clean emails on the fly.