We’ve all been there. The horror of discovering that you’ve mistakenly sent a confidential email to the wrong person, or spelt something wrong, or outed the person who Bcc’d you – it’s a nightmare. With so much incoming and outgoing content, it’s easy to slip up and commit one of the many commonly made email faux pas. You may also be simply unaware and have been regularly making these little e-mistakes. Fear no more! By putting a little effort into staying informed and training your eyes to catch these common slip-ups, your well-crafted emails will be the envy of all your co-workers.

Ambiguous subject Lines

Your subject line is the hook of your email. First impressions are important, and your subject line is the first thing your reader will see. Make sure it is relevant and clear to the body copy of your email. If your email is about checking in on the status of an ongoing project don’t be vague with a subject line that reads “Just checking in”, instead make it clear with something like “Status report on [insert project name]”. A clear subject line will likely get you a faster response – you don’t want your email to be buried in an overloaded inbox all because the receiver couldn’t see what it was about from the get go.

Detailed signature

An email signature should contain your name, title, and a few ways to contact you. This is particularly important for business emails. Sometimes emails are just a gateway to a larger conversation that needs to happen in person or over the phone. In those cases, supplying phone contact details can often get the ball rolling a bit faster.

Grammar and punctuation

Grammar and punctuation may seem too obvious to list as an email faux pas, as the sender is often perfectly aware they’ve made the mistake after the fact. However, here are a few particularly common grammatical errors that often happen when composing emails. It may sound basic, but you’d be surprised how commonly these mistakes appear.

  1. Too many commas and not enough full stops: an easy way to avoid this is to keep your sentences short, which has the added benefit of making it easier to read.
  2. Overusing hyphens: hyphens appear to have become the catch all punctuation point in email composition. Try mixing it up with a few other punctuation marks where appropriate. Colons and Semi colons deserve your attention too.
  3. Its vs it’s, your vs you’re: One of the rare instances where the apostrophe does not indicate possession is in the above words. “It’s” means “it is” and “you’re” means “you are”. Scan your email for apostrophes and make sure they are being used right.
  4. Incomplete sentences: make sure you aren’t using a full stop unless the sentence is complete. In most cases if your sentence has a subject, an object and a verb, then you’re fine.

Find a balance between too formal or too quirky

Email tone isn’t always easy to get right and often it will change entirely depending on where the email is being sent. If it is a business email, it is safer to be professional in your tone and avoid colloquialisms. If it is going to a close friend, or a particularly close co-worker, then you can relax your tone a bit. Be straightforward in your tone too. Of course, you should be polite, but it isn’t always necessary to preface all your emails apologetically with an opening line like “sorry, I was just wondering…”. A catch all way to be appropriate in your tone is to you keep your sentences short, polite, and to the point.

Utilise formatting to make your email more readable

If you are sending a long email, make use of some formatting to avoid your main point getting lost. Bullet points are a great place to start. They can break up your email nicely if you have multiple things to cover. Bolding keywords is another handy trick that can help a reader fish out the more imperative parts of your email. In short, find ways to avoid sending a wall of text. One easy way to avoid your main point getting lost is simply to make it the first thing you mention.

 Don’t Spam the High Priority Flag

A pet peeve to many people in the corporate sphere is co-workers that flag every email they send as high priority. Just take it easy on the flags. If your email really is high priority, then by all means flag it. If it is not, don’t. If you mark all your emails as high priority, then you run the risk of building a reputation that could result in none of your emails being considered high priority even with or without a flag – a classic case of ‘crying wolf’.

Check the CC’s

This is important, especially if you’re the type to click “reply all”. It goes back to the point about tone in the sense that the way in which you write your email needs to be appropriate for your audience. If you don’t know your audience, you can’t be sure your email tone is appropriate. Make sure you aren’t accidentally sending a relaxed email full of emojis and colloquialisms to the CEO thinking you were just sending it to your close co-worker.

Nail the close (in order of response rate)

Sign off right. Don’t get too formal with a ‘sincerely’ and maybe save the super casual sign-offs like ‘cheers’ for the right audience. In a recent study by the email software company Boomerang, email sign-offs were tested to see if the response rate was affected by the senders closing remarks. It would seem they were. With ‘thanks in advance’ taking the top spot and ‘best’ taking the bottom. In order of highest to lowest response rate, the email sign-offs they tested were the following:

thanks in advance [65.7%]
thanks [63%]
thank you [57.9%]
cheers [54.4%]
kind regards [53.9%]
regards [53.5%]
best regards [52.9%]
best [51.2%]

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Luke Ellery


Luke Ellery,

Luke is an enthusiastic writer with a background in creative writing and content marketing. He began his content journey in Auckland, managing a wedding blog. Luke considers himself a passionate grammarian and a thorough researcher; skills he undoubtedly picked up while completing his postgraduate studies in Ancient History. In his spare time, Luke peruses the specials aisle in the supermarket, and works to pay for the backyard that his future dogs deserve.