Top Twelve Email Mistakes That Can Sabotage Your Career

Guest Post by Lydia Ramsey, America’s Business Etiquette and Modern Manners Expert


email-managementYou return to your office at the end of the day and settle in to check email.  An hour later, having downloaded your messages, choosing which to read first, deleting the ones that scream  “junk”, crafting replies to the most important, filing others for later, you wonder what happened.   It was like that when you arrived at work today, and tomorrow promises to be no different. You are in email overload.


The use of e-mail in the corporate culture is pervasive. Business people rarely get letters any more. Even phone calls are uncommon. But we all get scores of email messages every day. Yet it is surprising how often people misuse this medium.


Your email is as much a part of your professional image as the clothes you wear, 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 email and steer clear of these top twelve mistakes:


1.  Omitting the subject line

We are well past the time when we didn’t realize the significance of a subject line. An email that arrives with a blank subject line implies that it is about nothing. Why would anyone open something about nothing?


2.  Not making your subject line meaningful

Your header should be pertinent to your message, not just “Hi” or “Hello.”  Treat it as a headline that tells your reader what to expect. The recipient is going to decide the order in which to read email based on who sent it and what it is about.  Your email will have lots of competition. The subject line is the hook.


3.  Discussing multiple subjects in a single message

If you need to discuss more than one subject, send multiple emails. This makes it easy to scan subject lines later to find a particular message. It also contributes to briefer email messages and the greater likelihood of a response.


4. Failure to personalize your message

Email needs a greeting. Begin with “Dear Mr. Broome,” “Dear Jim,” “Hello Jim,” or “Jim,” depending on your relationship. Failure to put in the person’s name can make you and your message seem cold.


5. Not accounting for lack of tone.

When you communicate with people face to face, 93% of the message is non-verbal.  Email has no body language or tone of voice.  The reader cannot see your face or hear your voice so choose your words carefully and thoughtfully.  Put yourself in the other person’s place and think how your words may come across in Cyberspace.


6. Forgetting to use your spell-checker

Take your correspondence seriously. It reflects on you. When you misspell words, use bad grammar or punctuation, it sends negative signals about you and your company. Lapses in grammar or punctuation can be forgiven. But misspelled words are just too easy to correct. That’s why God gave us spell-checkers. Make sure yours is turned on.


7. Writing the great American novel 

Email is meant to be brief.  Keep your message short. Use only a few paragraphs and a few sentences per paragraph.  People skim their email so a long missive is wasted. If you find yourself writing something that looks like the front page of the Wall Street Journal, pick up the phone or call a meeting.


8. Forwarding email without permission

Most everyone is guilty of this one, but think about it.  If the message was sent to you and only you, why would you pass it on?  Workplace wars have been started because of lack of good judgment.  Unless you are asked or request permission, do not forward anything that was sent solely to you.


9. Thinking that no one else will ever see your email 

Once it has left your mailbox, you have no idea where your email 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.  Use other means to communicate personal, confidential or sensitive information.


10. Leaving off a signature line 

Always close with your name and all contact information. The recipient may want to call you or mail you documents. Creating a formal signature block with all that data is the most professional approach and will save the recipient from having to hunt you down.


11. Expecting an instant response. 

Not everyone is sitting in front of the computer with email turned on.  The beauty of Internet communication is that it is convenient.  It is not an interruption. People can check their messages when it suits them, not you.  If your communication is so important that you need an instant response, use the phone.


12. Completing the “To” line first. 

The name or address of the person to whom you are writing is actually the last piece of information you should enter.  Check everything over carefully first.  Proof your grammar, punctuation, spelling and clarity.  Did you say what needed to be said?  Did you include the attachment you mentioned?  If you enter the recipient’s name first—which seems logical, a mere slip of the finger can send a message before its’ time. Completing the address line last means never having to say you’re sorry.


Email makes everything easier and faster from creating positive business impressions to establishing high-quality professional relationships. Business people who use the technology effectively and appropriately will see the results of their efforts reflected in the bottom line.


Photo from Savanah magazine

Photo from Savannah magazine

Lydia Ramsey is a business etiquette and modern manners expert who helps individuals and organizations add the polish that builds profits. Since 1996, thousands of people have attended her sessions –from keynote presentations and seminars to conference breakout sessions. She has provided individual coaching services to many of her clients. Her Southern charm and sense of humor have made her a sought-after speaker and consultant. Based in Savannah, Georgia, Lydia is available for national, regional and local speaking and training engagements. In fact, she has traveled as far as India and Dubai to deliver her programs. Contact her via email at or call 912-598-9812. Sign up for her free monthly newsletter or visit her website,




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Dr. Melissa GratiasMelissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.


  1. Bill Conerly

    I thought I knew my email etiquette until I got to #12. What a great tip. Thanks, Lydia.

    • Lydia Ramsey

      Thanks for your comment, Bill. I am glad to know there was a take-away for you.


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