Last week, I did a piece on the 5 key elements of outstanding business emails, which seemed to strike a cord. It was a follow-up from 5 Underrated Pillars of Masterful Emailing, a piece from last year. The tweets and emails I've received after each of these pieces gives me the sense that email is a point of major frustration for so many of us, that I thought a third part is in order.

Here are 5 common email mistakes, and how to fix them:

#1: Not Prompting a Reply.

If you want a reply, the number one thing to include in your email is a question. That demands a response--what do they have to say on the subject? If you let the recipient know that things are waiting on them, it will put pressure on them to respond.

Here's a tip if you know the recipient is a slow responder: CC other people. This works under the guise of including the CC'd as a general FYI and for transparency, but the real motive is to make sure the main recipient knows that multiple people are expecting a reply. This pressure can help prevent your message from falling into email purgatory.

#2: Finishing with a Whimper.

Even brief emails should have a natural progression, and the conclusion is a crucial step for a strong email. This is a good time to remember what your English teachers told you--the conclusion is not just a summary, but also needs to open up discussion. Reiterate the most important points, and provide a call to action for the recipient.

#3: Skipping Any Review.

Take a quick look at what you've read; it's easy to overlook things as you write your email, and you want to see how it will read when the recipient goes over it. This is a good time to look at the tone, and make sure you haven't forgotten any crucial information.

#4: Obsessing Over It.

There are a lot of nuances involved in crafting the perfect email, but once you understand how the little things can make a big difference, you can seamlessly integrate them into your style without having to think about it too much. One of the biggest skills is not just writing a good email, but writing it quickly. You shouldn't spend an hour agonizing over every little detail, but should work on getting it out fast. Even lengthy emails shouldn't take longer than 10-15 minutes.

#5: Sending an Email in the First Place.

This one's a bit of a cheat, and yet, it isn't. Promise!

Sometimes you'll find yourself starting an email, and then realizing that your note might turn into a volley of emails back and forth. I've caught the team at Firebrand Group in that mode now and again, where we're emailing back and forth on a thread, and soon I just realize it would be more efficient to call a meeting. I don't even send an email to tell people "hey, let's schedule a meeting"--I just schedule it. I don't need to clog inboxes for no reason, especially with respect to my very busy team.


Email conversations are short. You only get one or two chances to get your point across, so make the most of the opportunities that you have. And remember, emails don't exist in a vacuum--know who you're talking to, and tailor your style to previous conversations. If all your emails to someone are demands, they're not going to want to even open yours. If you're long-winded, they'll skim if they even read your message at all. Answering emails can be one of the most time-consuming and frustrating tasks of someone's day, so make yours worthwhile.

Published on: Mar 10, 2015
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