Few things can be more troubling or damaging than sending an e-mail to the wrong person or with the wrong message. Nested e-mails, in which a staff colleague sends you a client note he received, can cause infinite grief if your insolent response accidentally goes directly to the client instead of your colleague. Misspelled words and poor grammar can divert a business prospect from even opening your attached proposal. And let’s not even begin to measure the pain of hitting the reply-to-all button when you intend to respond with a sensitive question only to the sender.
While potential blunders may always lie poised at your fingertips, you can take a few steps to help goof-proof your message and reduce the chance of bungling future e-mails. Consider these precautions:
1. Always proofread your e-mail message before sending it. Even small errors can make you seem, if not an uneducated buffoon, then perhaps a bit careless. No one wants to establish a working (or other) relationship with a careless individual.
2. To avoid accidentally sending your e-mail prematurely—before you’ve completed writing it or before you’ve corrected errors—compose and proof the message before you enter the e-mail address. If you are replying to a message or using a contact list, cut the address from the “To:” line and keep it on your clipboard while you write and double-check the message; then paste the address back into the “To:” line.
3. Before you send your message, double-check the e-mail address that you’ve inserted in the “To:” line. Many e-mail programs have auto-complete functions that will insert a complete address after you have typed just the first few letters. If you have more than one Bill or Mary on your contact list—or even have received e-mails from them in the past—your application may insert the wrong one.
4. Re-read your “Subject” line to be sure it makes sense and will not be mistaken for spam. If you are sending your boss a message about a quick-turnaround opportunity to land the client your company has been targeting for the last two years, and the subject line reads, “A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!” chances are better than even that either your boss will delete it before checking who sent it or that your e-mail system’s spam filter will direct it directly to a junk folder.
5. Avoid responding to nested e-mails—chances are high that you’ll reply to the wrong one and only bring sorrow to yourself and your company. If you receive such an e-mail-within-an-e-mail and wish to reply, start a new message and insert the intended recipient’s address manually.
6. Periodically throughout the day check to see if e-mails you’ve sent have become lodged in the Outbox instead of the recipients’ inboxes. If you lose connectivity at some point, you may not realize that your sent message never went beyond your PC or server. The result can be a critical delay in your communications.
7. Similarly, when you are expecting an important e-mail that never arrives in your inbox, always check your Junk folder. Even if e-mails from the same person or organization have landed expeditiously in your inbox in the past, a suspect subject line on the sender’s part or just a moody e-mail filter can direct it to the junk pile.