Your e-mail is as much a part of your professional image as the clothes you wear, the postal letters you write (assuming you still do so), the greeting on your voice mail and the handshake you offer. If you want to impress on every front and build positive business relationships, pay attention to your e-mail and steer clear of these top 12 e-mail mistakes:
1. Omitting the Subject Line
If you send a message that reads "no subject," it seems to be about nothing. Given the huge volume of e-mail each person receives, the subject header is essential if you want your message read any time soon--or perhaps, at all. The subject line is the hook.
2. Not Making Your Subject Line Meaningful
Your header should be pertinent to your message, not just "Hi" or "Hello." The recipient is going to decide the order in which he reads e-mail based on who sent it and what it is about.
3. Failing to Change the Header to Correspond With the Subject
If you are writing your Web publisher, your first header might be, "Web site content." However, as your site develops and you send more information, don't just hit "reply" each time: take the time and care
to label each message for
what it is: "contact info," "graphics," or "home page." That way, your publisher can find a specific document in
his message folder without having to read every one you sent. If you change the subject altogether, start a new message.
4. Not Personalizing Your Message to the Recipient
E-mail is informal, but it
still needs a greeting. Begin with "Dear Mr. Broome,"
"Dear Jim," "Hello Jim," or even simply, "Jim." Failure
to start with the person's name can make your e-mail (and therefore, you!) seem cold.
5. Not Accounting For Tone
When you communicate with another person face-to-face, 93 percent of the message is non-verbal. E-mail has no body language. The reader cannot see your face or hear your tone of voice, so choose your words carefully and thoughtfully. Put yourself in the other person's place and think how your words might come across in cyberspace.
6. Forgetting to Check for Spelling and Grammar
In the early days of e-mail, there somehow arose the notion that this form of communication did not have to be letter-perfect. Wrong. It does. It is a representation of you. If you don't check to be sure your e-mail is correct, people will question the caliber of your other work, too. Use proper capitalization and punctuation; always check your spelling. Remember that your spellchecker will catch misspelled words, but not misused ones. It cannot tell whether you meant to say "for" or "fro," "from" or "form," "he" or "the."
7. Writing the Great American Novel
E-mail is meant to be brief. Keep your message short. Use only a few paragraphs and a few sentences per paragraph. People skim their e-mail, so a long missive is wasted. If you find yourself writing an overly long message, pick up the phone or call a meeting.
8. Forwarding E-mail Without Permission
If a message was sent to you and to you alone, why would you take responsibility for passing it on? Too often, confidential information has gone global because of someone's lack of judgment. Unless you are asked to do so or request permission, do not forward anything that was sent just to you.
9. Thinking That No One Else Will Ever See Your E-mail
Once it has left your mailbox, you have no idea where your e-mail will end up. Don't use the Internet to send anything that you couldn't stand to see on a billboard on your way to work the next day. Use other means to communicate personal or sensitive information.
10. Leaving Off Your Signature
Always close with your name, even though it is included at the top of the e-mail, and add contact information such as your phone, fax and street address. The recipient may want to call you to talk further or send you documents that cannot be e-mailed. Creating a formal signature block with all that data is the most professional approach.
11. Expecting an Instant Response
Not everyone sits in front of the computer with e-mail turned on. The beauty of Internet communication is its convenience: It is not an interruption. People check their messages when it suits them, not you. If your communication is so important that you need to hear back right away, use the phone.
12. Completing the "To" Line First
The name or address of the person to whom you are writing is the last piece of information you should enter. Why? Because once you enter the recipient's name, a mere slip of the finger can inadvertently send your message before its time and you can't take it back.
First check everything... carefully. Proof for grammar, punctuation, spelling and clarity. Did you say what you needed to say? How was your "tone of voice"? If you were the least bit emotional when you wrote the e-mail, did you let it sit first? Did you include the attachment you wanted to send? Once you're sure it's ready, then, and only then, complete the "to" line.
E-mail helps establish positive professional relationships easier and faster. Use the technology effectively--and appropriately; you'll see the results reflected in your bottom line.
is a business etiquette expert, professional speaker and author of Manners That Sell: Adding the Polish that Builds Profits.