Saturday, October 30, 2010

E-mail Advice That Makes People Angry ... or How to Keep Your E-mails Typo-free.

One of the toughest jobs of a Marketing Director is telling people that they had a typo in their e-mail or sent an unprofessional e-mail.

People don't want to hear it.

"I was going 100 miles an hour that day. Of course, I'd have a small typo."

"A typo? Who cares? Every e-mail has typos these days."

"So I forgot to include a subject line. Stop being so picky."

But the truth is that you are judged by your work and your work includes the e-mails you send. And here's a tougher truth: People are looking for reasons not to hire or keep you. They are actively looking for any excuse so they can justify their business decision of not using your service or not buying your products.

When I see a typo, I wonder:
a) Are they careless? Or
b) Do they simply not care?

When the CEO of a client company sends me an e-mail with a typo I think it's (b) they simply don't care. Why should they bother to proofread internal e-mails or e-mails to vendors? And while this might surprise people who know me... I agree. I hope they have better things to do than proofread internal e-mails. In fact, I hope everyone does.

So, we are only talking about typos in external e-mails.

But I really don't want to write a post on why sending unprofessional e-mails is bad. If you don't agree, you've already stopped reading. But if you do care that the people in your organization write proper e-mails, without typos, but don't want to get that snippy nasty-gram back for actually trying to help... here is your solution:

Send them the below portion of this blog post. Say it's from me. With love.


Three e-mails you should never send and how to ensure you never (or at least very rarely) do.

1) An e-mail with a typo.

First of all, go to Preferences in your Outlook® and select all the check spelling options. This will add squiggly lines under all your misspelled words as you compose them and it will also ask you to "ignore" or "change" all misspelled words before you send the e-mail.

However, this will not stop you from sending homonyms or other typos that are correctly spelled, but not the correct word. (Think back to the old poem with the line: "My checker tolled me sew.")

The most common one here seems to be "their" and "there." Another example, my personal demon, is using the word "from" when you mean "form."

Here's a trick to avoiding this kind of typo: Read the e-mail aloud before you send it.

Your eyes might not catch the typo, but your ears will.

Try to catch the errors below.
  • "You should receive the PDF form Nicki by 5pm today."
  • "I now you like sushi, so let's meet at Yasu."
  • "I never did here from Marc. Did you?"
A spellchecker also won't catch contraction errors such as the very common "your" instead of "you're" one. Since the "read aloud" trick doesn't seem to work all the time on these errors, here's an additional trick: Read all contractions as if they weren't contractions. That is, when reading the e-mail aloud say, "you are", even when you wrote "you're."

Try to catch the errors in the two following sentences.
  • "Every sentence should stand up on it's own."
  • "I haven't seen you're boss around lately."

The spell checker should also catch typos in the subject line, but, for some reason, this tends to be a good place to find typos, anyway.

Simple advice here: Proofread your subject lines, too.

2) An e-mail without a subject line.

I seem to receive a greta deal of these and I am unsure how it happens. Outlook should pop-up a message line that reads: "This message has no subject. Are you sure you want to send it?" If you get that message, click "cancel" and add a subject line.

Try, right now, to send a message without a subject line. If you don't get that message box, contact your IT person. In the past you must have selected the "Don't show me this message again." option. Why you did that is beyond me. But you did and, sadly, there is no preference you can check to get it back. Your IT person can, however, fix it. And once it's fixed, there is never (not ever!) a good reason to choose the "never show" option, since you should only see that box when you accidentally forget to include a subject line.

Let me put that more directly: You should want to be notified when you are about to make a careless mistake. Don't stop your computer from helping you.

Also, if you proofread your subject lines and see that there is nothing to proofread, then, well, add something to proofread.

3) An e-mail without a body. ("Subject line messaging")

For some reason, people think this is efficient.
Subject line: Please send me the updated Petrovich file. I also want Version 2 of the Montrose one. Thanks.

Yep, I get it. What more did you need to say? The whole message was in the subject line.

But let me explain how e-mail works in this century.
  1. There is a preview pane now. So I can read most of your e-mail without opening it.
  2. The 'In' box is actually a thin column where people can see the sender's name and only a few words of your subject line. So I have to open up the e-mail anyway.
  3. When I open the e-mail, Outlook puts the subject line in a grey box, making your amazing creation harder to read.
So, when your recipient opens your e-mail, he likely sees only the body of your message, which reads:


Then it's a treasure hunt for the message. This is the opposite of efficient.

In fact, if I'm looking at your message on my smart phone, I could read your whole two sentence message without actually opening the e-mail unless you use your special trick of putting the entire message in the subject line.

It's funny, since there is really no reason why "subject line messaging" is actually unprofessional (albeit lots of reasons it's inefficient), but my informal poll of about two dozen people revealed that NO ONE likes this and EVERYONE thinks it's unprofessional. A few of them used pretty choice words about the, and I quote, "D-bags" who do this.

So, stop it. Even (read: especially) for internal e-mails, since it'll come across as bossy and rude, not efficient.



Here is the full "Candidate for a Pullet Surprise" poem, which includes the line: "My checker tolled me sew." (Scroll to the bottom of the page.)

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