Communication skills

Proofreading business emails: overkill or essential?

- February 15, 2011 3 MIN READ

Emails are such an all-pervasive part of business today that it’s easy to churn them out at a rate of knots. But there are very good reasons for proofreading business emails before you send.

Scary statistics

Most people believe that emails are interpreted correctly, but in fact, only half of emails received are interpreted correctly and 50% of recipients say they have a lot of trouble interpreting emotion in emails.

It has been suggested that this overconfidence in emails as a communication tool links to a difficulty detaching oneself from your own environment – a theory that’s supported by the rapid emergence of social media where communication is fast, off the cuff and not always thoughtful.

Impact on business

Emails influence business life in multiple ways. They increase workload; affect the prioritisation of task completion and impact on staff stress levels.

Furthermore, three quarters of email is opened within 6 seconds of its arrival in the Inbox and there is a significant recovery time for the worker to return to their previous task because the email task is prioritised over the planned task.

So it’s worthwhile ensuring that your own etiquette and communication strategies are adding value to your business, not detracting from it.

Communication processes

On a personal level, communication is a complex interaction that depends on the interpersonal skills of the people involved. In email communication, the tools and skills we use in person aren’t present and the written word is the sole communicator.

Attitude, personality and intent are still expressed though. A poorly written business email immediately sets a bad tone and projects attitude.

Avoid using poor grammar and punctuation, jargon or cumbersome words, discriminatory language or language that is unclear and allows assumptions.

Use a professional font too – non-business typology speaks loudly of unprofessionalism. For the same reason, avoid using blocks of bold or italic font, stylised fonts, no capitals or excessive amounts of upper case text.

Want more articles like this? Check out the business writing section.

Review of email etiquette

It is important to remember that emails are a business format and therefore require infrastructure with titles, a clear sense of purpose and a length of no more than two paragraphs. The subject description should be precise and match the content in the email and this content should be clear in the opening sentence of the email.

Avoid burying an unfavourable message in the middle or end of the email, as this only tends to aggravate the reader.

Tone and content management

Tone should be conversational, polite, respectful, approachable, and written from the viewpoint of the business you represent.

Curt and demanding tones are not helpful and sometimes, changing just one word can alter the tone altogether.

A useful way to monitor email tone is to send an email to yourself so you can proofread it and experience how it feels to receive.

The rules of proofreading are simple.

  • Put some distance between yourself and the email
  • Read the text aloud or get someone to read it to you
  • Consider each sentence separately
  • Remember the basic rules of grammar and punctuation
  • Check your spelling using a dictionary; don’t rely on spell check
  • Listen to the voice and tone of the email and consider the choice of words

Manage your inbox

Some useful email management strategies could include turning off email alert sounds, allocating certain times of the day to check emails, and setting your email application to display in the inbox with the sender and subject, so you can determine urgent issues.

Don’t respond immediately to emails. Instead, prioritise the work they entail into your To do list.

Reduce your responses by considering whether the sender is expecting a response, and if so, restrict your reply to the person directly involved rather than using ‘Reply all’.

Do you re-read your business emails before pressing ‘Send’, or do you hit the button of no return with gay abandon? If you’ve had a poorly composed email backfire on you, we’d love to hear your story – if you’re game to share it!

Kruger, J et al. Egocentrism over email: Can we communicate as well as we think? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2005;89.

Jackson,T et al. Case study: evaluating the effect of email interruptions within the workplace. IN: Conference on Empirical Assessment in Software engineering, Keele University, EASE 2002, UK, April 2002, pp.3-7.

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  • Andrew Caska

    Caska IP Patent Attorneys

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