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How to Avoid Silly Errors in Email

A procurement manager from Washington, D.C., asked for ways to avoid silly errors caused by too little time to proofread and too much reliance on the grammar and spelling checker. I am happy to share my strategies:

  1. Rethink your attitude toward proofreading. Proofreading is not a luxury. It's as essential as bread and water. The 45 seconds it may take to carefully proofread an email can save hours of resending messages, clarifying, and getting over embarrassment. The manager who wrote to a new employee "Please bare with me while I learn the ropes" probably still shudders when he thinks of it.
  2. Proofread aloud, reading every word. Aloud may mean just whispering to yourself, but do voice each word. Doing so will help you find errors as well as sentences that don't make perfect sense.
  3. When you make a change while proofreading, proofread the changed paragraph or sentence again. Frequently edits are the cause of additional errors. For example, if you change "Thanks you for the gift" to "Thank for the gift," you have a new error.
  4. Look closely for typical errors. The most common error is giving the wrong date or matching the date with the wrong day of the week. Another common one is you for your. Another is missing words, and missing punctuation at the end of the sentence. If you frequently type it's for its, look for that error. (It's must mean "it is." It's has no other correct meaning.)
  5. Save any important email in your drafts folder, and then come back to it a few minutes later. Just a few minutes away from the message will help you spot errors.
  6. Before clicking Send, check the "To" line and your greeting. Be sure you have written to the correct Christie, and be sure you have not spelled her name Christi or Cristie or Kristie, especially if that is your sister's name.

For other ideas on proofreading, please check my proofreading posts here.

Do you have suggestions for avoiding silly errors in email? Please share your tips.

Syntax Training

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

7 comments on “How to Avoid Silly Errors in Email”

  • I never fill in the “To” field before writing and proofing – in fact, it’s the last thing I do before clicking “Send”.

    That way I can be sure I’m not going to accidentally send an unfinished or unproofed email.

  • I like to send myself a copy of the email first to see what it will look like to the recipient’s eyes. Making sure attachments work and are correct is a big one for me.

    Usually this is with really important emails, not trivial ones.

  • Sarah, we do that in our office too, when an important message is going out, especially one with links. Thanks for commenting!

  • Dear Lynn,

    I posted this in error under minutes-writing, so I’m posting it again here.

    Some people have the habit of writing their entire (one-line) email message in the subject line. When the reader opens the message, there’s nothing to read.

    What do you think of this practice?


  • Hi, Jolynn. I have written about that interesting question. Please use the search term “Blips on the Email Screen” (without quotation marks) in the search box on this site. You will find what you are looking for.

    Thanks for being persistent!

  • Thanks, Lynn. I found what I was looking for, and yes, the reader decides if something works – not not.

Comments are closed.