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Error-free Emails

Posted by jbockelman on February 18, 2014

Before you hit send, follow these fast proofing tips

By Barbara Baker Clark

The average office worker writes 40 email messages each day, according to Baydin, creator of the calendar assistant Boomerang. Chances are that several of those messages contain mistakes in spelling, punctuation, or grammar.

Does it really matter? Researchers asked people to assess a sample message from the “HR director of a large accounting firm.” Some participants reviewed a message with mistakes, while others reviewed the same message without mistakes. Other groups reviewed the same incorrect and correct versions but also with or without the common signature line “Sent from my iPhone.”

Results showed a significant drop in credibility for the person sending a message with mistakes. Interestingly, the drop-off was much smaller when the error-filled message was sent with the iPhone signature. It seems we all understand the pressure to act quickly, so we give each other extra leeway when we know someone is responding on the go.

That said the study shows that typos do matter. When we haven’t met the recipient previously, for example, or when we are sending an important document to a large group of people, it’s especially vital to get it right.

In those situations, taking a few minutes to review your message before you hit send can protect your credibility. Here are my favorite quick tactics for spotting errors:

  1. Leave the room. Take a five minute break and come back to it. You’ll be surprised how much more you will “see” after just a few minutes.

  2. Read it aloud. This is my all time favorite proofing tip—especially for uncovering grammar or syntax errors. In addition to spotting errors, you’ll also discover if your tone isn’t as friendly as it could be.

  3. Blow it up. If your email application allows you to enlarge your view screen, it can be quite effective to increase the font size so that you can check your message sentence by sentence.

Of course, these tricks of the trade work just as well when you have more time or when you are reviewing longer documents—such as slide presentations, reports, proposals, and so on.

One final note: Always check spelling on names, several times if necessary. This is arguably the most important element to review because of the poor impression it makes. And although the spell checker typically will highlight names, it can’t tell you if you got it right!

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