Wednesday, July 06, 2016

How to Never Again Send a Bad Email

Anyone who uses email has either lost an in-progress email, sent an email before it was finished, or sent an email with a missing attachment. It is easy to get distracted while in the middle of an email and make a mistake. While technology helps greater numbers of people communicate over larger distances, it can also be frustrating when it does not work as expected. Sending emails is a daily occurrence for most people, but using the following tips will help prevent ever sending a bad email again.

How to Never Again Send a Bad Email

A bad email does not always stem from what we have written. A lost Internet connection can wipe out an email draft when using webmail, email applications or computers can lock up, as well as many other things that can adversely affect the quality of an email. The steps listed below are simple, yet powerfully effective, at preventing bad emails.  

Draft the email in an external program

When creating emails using a webmail application, never assume drafts of the email are automatically being saved in the background by the application. Webmail is accessing and using email operations via a web based interface and operates differently than email applications like Thunderbird and Outlook. Below is an example of a compose window using webmail.

To safely draft a longer, more involved email, open a word processing program instead of the built-in webmail interface. Type and edit the email as desired. Once the email is finished, copy and paste it into a new email using the appropriate webmail application. Use the control + A shortcut to copy all the text in the document, the control + C shortcut to copy, and the control + V shortcut to paste the email contents before sending.

Using this step prevents the loss of a well-written, but possibly unsaved, email. Anyone who has ever lost an email when it was 90% finished knows the second version of the email is never as good as the first.

Fill out the To: fields after writing the email

This is the best advice possible when creating an email. It is rare that someone is able to singularly focus on tasks without any interruptions. This includes drafting emails which means it is easy to forget to finish an email, to hastily type something without editing it or to accidentally click send out of habit when you meant to save it as a draft.

Waiting until after the email is finished before filling out the To:, CC:, and BCC: fields prevents emails from being sent before they are finished.

Reply versus Reply to all

Full disclosure: everyone views reply and reply all best practices differently. However, a good rule of thumb is to use reply all when a reply includes pertinent information. Pertinent information might be accepting the terms of an agreement, or providing times and dates for a meeting, both of which would be important to everyone involved. Replying with simple responses like thank you or you're welcome do not normally warrant using the reply all feature. 

However you treat reply versus reply all, be sure to be consistent and to use reply all to include interested parties. Lazily replying to only the originator of an email can cause communication issues and require additional time for follow up emails which can be frustrating to everyone involved. You may not know each person CC'd in the email, but the person who included them does, so it makes sense to respect the process. 

Check attachments before sending 

Almost everyone can admit to sending an email with a missing attachment. This is easy to do considering how focused we are on writing an appropriate and succinct email. Unfortunately, 100% of the time when this happens it requires a second email with the attachment and an apology for omitting the attachment in the first place. 

A better way to send attachments is to attach them before typing the message and to verify the attachment is included before sending email where attachments are intended. This may sound tedious, but sending an email without its mentioned attachment can vary from nominally inconvenient to considerably embarrassing depending upon the recipient. Imagine forgetting to attach a resume in an email to a prospective employer.

It is also helpful to understand how attachments are affected by replies and forwarded emails. When an email with an attachment is replied to, the attachment is not included in the reply. By contrast, forwarding an email with an attachment includes the original attachment.

This step prevents emails from being sent with missing attachments, as well as forwarding attachments that should not be shared.

BCC whenever appropriate

BCC stands for blind carbon copy. BCC recipients are not seen by other recipients whether they are to, cc or bcc recipients. This feature is most commonly used for marketing purposes and sending information out to large groups of people where the recipient's privacy needs to be maintained, either for the benefit of the sender or the receiver. 

Using the bcc feature protects the anonymity of the recipients and keeps emails from feeling cluttered when there are 15+ recipients. A good rule of thumb for using bcc is to use it when the recipients do not all know each other or have any legitimate reason to communicate with one another. Sending to customers is a perfect example as their privacy should be maintained and exposing their email addresses to people they do not know is bad etiquette. However, sending documents to a group of students in the same class does not normally necessitate using the bcc feature.

This step helps protect everyone's privacy and keeps emails cleaner.

Email is one of the most commonly used business communication tools. As such it needs to work and not waste time. Sending bad emails often has more to do with distractions, feeling rushed, or having technology fail. Drafting an email in a word processing program instead of using a webmail interface can prevent the loss of an in-progress email. Filling out the to, cc, and bcc fields after the email is finished ensures the email is finished before it is sent. Replying to all with important information maintains a higher level of communication. Inserting an attachment before writing the message prevents sending emails with missing attachments. Lastly, using the bcc feature protects people's personal information. 

As always, working smarter is better and these tips can make the difference between a mediocre and a fantastic email!

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