Email Proofreading Tips, or "Write Once, Read Twice"

How to ensure that your emails say what you meant them to say, and won't come back to embarrass you later.

You should always re-read your emails before you send them out. It's best if you can give yourself a couple of minutes breathing space by "queueing" emails before you send them, or saving them as drafts. But even if you want to send a message immediately, a second look could be a life-saver.

Proofread your emails before sending them for spelling, grammar and punctuation errors. Your friends may let the occasional mistake slide without comment.

In a business context, however, such errors give a poor impression, especially since email may be the first form of contact with potential customers, partners, suppliers and other counterparts. Many email packages have a built-in spellchecker, so make use of it.

Be on the lookout for any ambiguous statements that might easily be misunderstood. Intent and meaning are frustratingly hard to convey by email since the recipient only has the words they're reading to go by, with no clue about your mood or frame of mind when you wrote them.

While smileys may provide a crude approximation of "mood", they're an ineffective way to patch up an email with a fundamentally flawed tone. Sarcasm is particularly dangerous, since it relies on voice clues that are completely absent in an email.

If you're angry, remember that an email sent in haste can't be recalled. It's also potential "evidence" that's out there, effectively in the public domain. After all, you have no control over what the recipient will do with it: they could repost it on a blog or website, send it to the media - or use it as ammunication in building a legal case against you.

Is all the information you meant to include in the email actually there? For example, have you included any attachments you referred to in your message? Have you answered the questions you were meant to answer? ALL of them?

Finally, is there anything in the message that could come back to haunt you later? Remember that emails can be re-circulated instantly, and they effectively live forever.

Subjects with the potential to trip you up (not an exhaustive list): off-colour, racist or sexist remarks; unguarded criticisms; extreme political or other views; discussions of illegal or unethical activities; disclosure of confidential information; etc.


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