I had a client a few years ago who came to me because he felt he needed to improve his English writing skills. On the surface, he appeared to be a confident English speaker, able to express himself clearly & appropriately, with a good range of phrases & little hesitation.
However, his writing was another matter, and he really struggled to write emails professionally that made a good impression. He was reliant on grammar & spelling apps, and they did not pick up specific writing style & etiquette issues. He made certain common errors, not only in his language, but also in his email approach & style.
I was able to support him with his writing style, as well as his English skills development, showing him where to focus specifically to avoid the obvious errors to improve his emails, so they made a better impression with his clients & teams.
So, today I want to share with you my insights into the most common mistakes to avoid so you can develop even better emails in English:
Boring or no subject line:
You want your email to be opened, right? Each day, the average office worker receives 121 emails in their inbox. Whether you receive significantly more or less, that is still a lot of emails! So, make sure you use the subject line to come up with an engaging way to encourage the recipient to open your email. This is true even if you know the other person already & regularly send emails to each other. For example, you could ask a question or flag a deadline in the subject line.
Writing long emails:
Keep emails short & simple. British emails tend to be brief & if you find yourself writing about several topics, then it is time to arrange a meeting or call the person! People are put off by long emails and are likely to close them & not open them again.
Going straight to what you need:
Especially with people you do not know well, or if you have a significant request to make, I highly recommend you build up to your request in the email as you would in any conversation. So, do not forget the appropriate greeting (Hello Victoria), some brief small talk (How are you? Hope you are having a good week), thanking the person for a previous email & providing a context or reason for writing.
Also do not forget to include the ‘please’ & ‘thank yous’ in your request, as British people have a higher tendency to use these phrases than other nationalities. As a result, you will find you get a warmer response & willingness to help.
Love them or hate them, they seem to be used increasingly, and not just in personal communication. In fact, 61% of emoji users use emojis at work. I am not a great emoji lover personally, but my rule is that if the other person starts using them in our emails, then I will occasionally reply with one. I would advise you to be cautious of using emojis in an email exchange, if the other person does not.
Not checking your email:
This is a big one! People often do not check their emails or over-rely on a spelling or grammar app, without sense-checking if the correct or appropriate word has been used. So here are my top 3 (of several items!) you should be checking:
- Spellings, especially any names!
- Homophones: these are words which sound the same but have different spellings & meaning). If you missed my recent blog on homophones, then read it here.
- Missing words: the most common missed words are prepositions (e.g., to, by, for), and pronouns (e.g., you, me).
This really can irritate people if you are not aware of the usual rules. In emails with people you know well, or if you are in the same company, British people tend to send ‘hold emails’ which acknowledge they have received the email, even if they do not have the answer to your question, or cannot reply immediately. This is usually within 24-48 hours after receiving the email. For example, it might say ‘Thank you for your email & I will get back to you as soon as I have the information/ by the end of the week.’
As simple as it seems to avoid these mistakes, they happen all the time! So, make sure you sense check your own emails. I would love to know what are the greatest email mistakes you notice that you or others tend to make? What annoys you most in emails? Reply & share your stories!