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Proofreading Checklist to Avoid “Oops!” Messages

I just received an “Oops!” email from our beloved, prestigious public television station. When I read the subject line, “Oops! Correction for Rick Steves Preview Screening and Q+A!” I instantly knew what the oops must be: a date error.

Indeed, the email opened “Apologies, there was a date typo in our last email! The Rick Steves event will be taking place on TUESDAY, OCTOBER 16.”

The previous email had contained the wrong day of the week.

Day/date errors like this one are the reason for many oops messages. But other avoidable errors regularly get in the way of effective emails: names spelled wrong, unattached attachments, and dead or vague links, to name a few. (A link is vague when it links to a home page rather than to the specific web page the reader needs.)

Below is my email proofreading checklist. Use it as a tool whenever your email contains details that must be correct.


Check to ensure:

1. The subject line is precise and up to date.
2. Email addresses of recipients, including any Cc recipients, are correct.
3. Names of the recipients and of other persons and entities are correct and consistent throughout.
4. Pronouns (him, his, her, hers, their, theirs) match their associated names. [Errors creep in when you reuse emails for new recipients.]
5. Dates and day-date combinations are accurate.
6. Numbers (cases, phone num­bers, addresses, dol­lar amounts, etc.) are correct.
7. Attachments are cited cor­rectly in the message, and current versions are attached.
8. References to documents, page numbers, articles, etc., are cor­rect.
9. Links are live and correct.
10. The message makes sense and is complete.
  11. No typos or errors in spelling, grammar, or punctuation exist.

If you’d like systematic practice using this checklist, as well as a document checklist for other kinds of content, take my self-study course Proofread Like a Pro. The free trial gives you a taste of the course content and its value.

What kinds of oops errors do you encounter? Another oops message I sometimes receive is “Oops–sorry I didn’t read your message carefully. Never mind.” I guess a Number 12 in the checklist above might be “If replying, I’ve read the original email first.”

I welcome your comments.


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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.

10 comments on “Proofreading Checklist to Avoid “Oops!” Messages”

  • Is that a typo on #4 in the checklist? Ha!
    Love this training blog! Thank you for giving us these timely reminders and lessons in syntax!

  • Lynn, I like your checklist and item 1 in particular. Many people habitually respond to emails without updating the subject line. An example is retaining “Committee meeting on October 13” in an email exchange even after that exchange has shown that an October 13 meeting is impossible. I think you may have covered this phenomenon in a past post.


  • Hi Tommaso,

    Thanks for that example. When people add a new topic to an email reply, it should be a new email instead.

    A mix of subjects in emails does slow down and annoy readers–unless all the subjects fall under one umbrella. For example, if I sent you an email about all the tasks I had accomplished, those tasks might fall into many categories, but all would be under the umbrella of my accomplishments.

    Thanks for stopping by.


  • N. 12 made me laugh 😀

    I’m guilty of forgetting to attach my attachments, too often than I’d like.

    I do try to remove all unnecessary people from the CC field. I desperately wish my colleagues would do the same.

    I try to check my spelling and grammar as often as humanly possible but sometimes I just don’t have the time (or feel too confident…). When I happen to read my own old messages and find errors it makes me cringe and wonder how could I possibly be so distracted.

  • Hi Deborah,

    Welcome to being human! I hope you find the checklist helpful–even Number 12.

    Thanks for your comment.


  • Hi,Lynn,

    Many thanks for your precious help. I just love your blog and get addicted to it.
    PS: I’m new learner doing my best to get good result at the earliest.
    wish you best of luck

  • Salma, thanks for your comment. I appreciate your enthusiasm.

    Because I know you want to learn, I have edited your message for a U.S. audience:

    Hi Lynn,

    Many thanks for your precious help. I just love your blog and have gotten addicted to it.

    I wish you the best of luck.


    P.S.: I’m a new learner doing my best to get good results.

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