This holiday season, give your colleagues and business acquaintances a gift they’re sure to love: a well-written, perfectly punctuated email.
According to a recent Forbes article, the average office worker receives at least 200 emails a day and spends about two and a half hours reading and replying to them. As email continues to be a major channel for business communication, the quality of your email writing (or lack thereof) is critical in how you are perceived by other professionals. Sure, we’re all human, and mistakes are inevitable, but what’s important is that your written email communication doesn’t discredit your competence and professionalism.
Follow these eight tips to avoid the most common grammar pitfalls, instantly sound smarter, and improve your email game just in time for 2019.
1.) Don’t ever mix up these words again. Mixing up any of these words is an inexcusable offense. While some lessons you learned in elementary school are okay to forget, these are not:
- “your” and “you’re” Your = a possessive adjective describing something as belonging to you. You’re = the contraction for “you are.”
- “There,” “they’re” and ”their” There = refers to a place, as in “over there.” They’re = the contraction for “they are”. Their = a possessive adjective describing something as belonging to them.
- “Its” and “it’s” Its = belonging to it. It’s = the contraction for “it is.”
- “Effect” and “affect” Effect = noun. Affect = verb. You can affect the effect.
2.) Use commas correctly. One of the most common writing mistakes is adding commas where they don’t belong. Here are some quick comma guidelines that will make you look like a grammar guru:
- Use a comma before a coordinating conjunction (and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet) that’s connecting two independent clauses.
- Use a comma after a dependent clause at the beginning of a sentence.
- Use a comma to separate items in a list.
- Use an Oxford comma (But know there is significant debate about the Oxford comma.)
- Use a comma when addressing a person or thing directly. For example: “Let’s eat, Grandma!” This use of a comma makes it clear that Grandma is not on the menu.
3.) Double check for misspelled or misused words. In the age of autocorrect and Grammarly, this mistake is easily avoided. Misuse or misspelling of words can immediately discredit your professionalism, or, best case scenario, make you look bad and give your coworkers a good laugh. Here’s an example from a colleague of mine:
4.) Don’t bury the lead. Don’t use email as a means to think out loud. Be informative, concise, and deliberate. If an email appears long and boring to read, the reader is less likely to read it. Don’t make your reader dig through several paragraphs to figure out what you're saying.
5.) Use an informative subject line. This goes hand in hand with the tip above. The email subject line is one of the first impressions you have on your recipient. Use an informative and compelling subject line to ensure your emails are opened and read.
6.) Save yourself from email horror and add an email send delay. Add a 30-second send delay to your email (here’s a how-to guide). You will thank yourself the next time you press send before you include your attachment, refer to a “ma'am” as a “sir,” or accidentally call your uncle’s new wife by “Wonda” instead of “Rhonda.” True story.
7.) Email isn’t your only option: Yes, email is important, but it’s not the only form of communication available to you. Know when to change tactics and use another method of communication like face-to-face meetings, chat, Slack, videoconference, or a phone call.
8.) Get Grammarly: My last piece of advice is to get Grammarly. It’s a free online grammar checking, spell checking, and plagiarism detection tool to catch all those tricky grammar rules, misspelled words, and other typos. The free version is likely sufficient for most of your needs. For those of you who think you’re too good for that, I especially challenge you to try it. You may be less of a grammar expert than you think.
This year, spread some holiday cheer and good spirit by sending better emails. Your colleagues, business acquaintances, career, and Grandma will thank you. #PunctuationSavesLives
About me: As a communications professional, I create and execute communications strategies to achieve business results. By working with executives, senior leaders, engineers, creatives, and many other groups, I’ve learned to communicate effectively. I’d be remiss if I didn't confess that I’ve learned most of these tips through my own mistakes and subsequent embarrassment. I currently serve as PR Manager at Skuid. Follow me on Twitter or friend me on Linkedin.