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Common Mistakes for Writing Emails

Published on Monday, 30 Nov 2015

Hong Kongers are well-educated in English throughout their school years and many are required to utilise their English-language skills in their professional careers. Unfortunately, writing skills are a whole other beast to contend with, even for the brightest professionals out there. Mistakes are common, even when writing seemingly simple things like emails. Yet no matter how common these email mistakes might be, the impression left with a poorly written email is still an unprofessional one that should be avoided. 

Here are the more common email mistakes to look out for in your future correspondence:

1. Casual tone of voice. When writing professional emails, it’s crucial to maintain a tone that speaks of your professionalism, as well as your respect for the recipient. All too often, emails are written with far too casual a tone that can be possibly misunderstood as a sign of disrespect for the recipient or lack of experience on the writer’s part. Until a relationship is fully established and a more casual way of addressing a colleague or client is unquestionably deemed acceptable, never begin a work email with “hey” or “hi.”It’s better to begin with a more formal “hello” or even a “dear.” It may seem like an insignificant difference, but addressing an email “dear Michael” as opposed to “hi Michael” will sound more professional and respectful.

2. Grammatical errors. Just like when you were attending university, poor grammatical errors will hold you back. In the professional world, it’s critical to always check for grammatical errors. Always. So many software and email programmes nowadays have spellcheck and grammar corrections built-in that there really is no excuse for you to send an email with any mistakes. For those especially important business emails, take a minute before you automatically hit the send button. Review your message carefully. Read it out loud to yourself if it helps to spot any errors.

3. Homonyms. Words that sound similar but have different meanings can potentially be the downfall for any working employee, especially those writing in a second language. Sure, you can recognise and understand the difference between the words “male” and “mail” or “course” and “coarse,” but spellcheck and grammar software probably won’t detect the mistake and if the wrong word ends up on your email, it can cause confusion, as well as prevent you from making the best impression possible. Again, double check your writing before sending out important work-related emails.  

4. Passive voice. The way you write acts as a channel for your voice. It should be able to convey your knowledge, expertise, and authority to the professional world. Unfortunately, if your writing style is in the passive style, such as “the meeting will be started by our team” versus the more active and confident, “our team will start the meeting,” the reader can perceive you as being weak, easily manipulated, and unsure of yourself. Write more authoritatively and people will start to see you as an expert in your field, confident in yourself and your capabilities. 

5. Idioms. Colourful language is a great way to convey ideas, but unfortunately for second language users, these intentions can often get lost in translation. The use of idioms or other common phrases with figurative meanings in email is not necessarily a mistake in itelf, but sometimes the use of the idiom can either be misunderstood by the reader or used incorrectly by the writer. It’s always best to avoid anything that can potentially cause confusion so unless there is an absolute need to include figurative language, it’s probably best to leave it out of your correspondence.

Writing can be a difficult process for many professionals, but because email is such an important aspect of workplace communication, it is vital that common mistakes in writing emails are eliminated. Take note of the frequent types of errors and remember to always proofread your important messages before you hit send. Your career and future success will thank you for it.

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