You wrote what?! How not to email

In this old Digital Age, we often find ourselves communicating through technology more than in person. Emailing is a great tool for work as it allows you to contact your co-workers, boss or clients any time, any day and from anywhere in the world. A word of caution, though; replacing face-to-face communication with computer screens can sometimes lead to misinterpretations.

Without being able to hear the other person’s tone of voice or facial expressions, it can be very easy to miscommunicate. Just think back to some of your emails - have you ever considered things rude or offensive? Chances are the writer wasn't intending for their message to be read this way.

To avoid sounding rude or a little abrupt when communicating via email, follow these two simple rules:

1. Avoid using ‘actually’ in your emails

It sounds a little crazy that this word (which seems on the face of it a pretty common, harmless word) shouldn’t be used when emailing, yet it can be read extremely different from how you intended! Actually can seem like you are correcting the person. We've all no doubt wanted to correct someone at work at one time or another, especially when that over-bearing manager is trying to pick you apart for something that wasn’t your fault. But we know it’s not the right thing to do in most situations. To negate the reader thinking we are being defensive and having a little attitude it's best to cut actually from our vocabulary.

An example of the power of the word actually is:

Your boss: “I don’t think that figure is correct, you might need to check it against the others.”
You: “Actually, I got that figure off the company’s website.”


“I understand what you mean. I got the figure off the company’s website, but will double-check it.


2. Scrap the ‘sorry’

The word sorry is just as polite as your Ps and Qs, right? After all, it's been drilled into us from a young age to apologise when we are wrong, right? Well, this is all still true, however there are better ways to admit our faults, rather than saying sorry. The problem with the word sorry is that it is such a basic, common and convenient way to admit wrongdoing. As a result, when we say sorry (regardless of whether you are being sincere or not) it can come across as dismissive, non-genuine and sometimes a little sarcastic. The word sorry is so over-used that it has in some way lost it’s meaning and can be taken in other ways, especially over email. It's also important to attempt to explain in a direct way how you will improve or change your fault in the future. This provides the other person with some reassurance that the problem has been resolve, and allows you to demonstrate your sincerity and professionalism.

To avoid seeming careless and dismissive, replace sorry with a few of these phrases:

You’re right

Going forward I will ensure that doesn’t happen again

I understand why you’re upset

Now, let’s see the difference:

I’m sorry I forgot about the meeting.”


“I apologize - it slipped my mind. I will make sure that from now on I check my diary every morning so it doesn’t happen again.”

The latter provides a much more mature, respectful response and allows a little bit of sincerity in your message.


3. Read your email aloud

One of the most crucial tips to remember when communicating through email is to re-read your email before you send it! Re-reading your message is a way of ensuring:

  • Your message actually makes sense (some Monday mornings are a little too hard and our emails can sometimes sound like gibberish!)
  • You haven't made any typos. While computers (and even smart phones) have spell-check, it’s easy to miss that tiny red line underneath your misspelled word, so double check!
  • The intention of your message. Reading your emails aloud before hitting the send button is a great way to ensure you haven’t used any language or words (remember actually and sorry are not your friends) which could potentially be considered offensive or a little rude. Re-read it, edit it then send it!

Most of us spend our working days firing off email after email without so much as a glance at the keyboard. By taking a bit of extra time to formulate our messages, we can ensure our reader interprets our message the way we intended it, actually

How to write a perfect cover letter

When applying for jobs, we try to make sure our CV’s are top-notch; documenting every experience we've had professionally, with impeccable references. But what often gets overlooked is the equally-important cover letter.

The cover letter can sometimes feel like a “waste of time”, or a “task”, and because of this there a few of us that have used a template and just fill in the blanks for each application. This seems to be easier and perhaps more time effective, however it is actually hurting us in the long run.

Cover letters are the first point of contact with your potential employer, thus making sure you represent yourself in the best possible way is very important. So, here are some tips and tricks to remember when writing those tricky cover letters.

The Opening

Addressing your cover letter to a specific person is always a great way to open the communication. It shows the company that you are willing to do research and go that extra mile to be professional. If the job advertisement does not include a name, try to find out who the recruitment manager is for the company. If you can’t find the recruiter's name then possibly look to find the head of the company’s department to which you’re applying. Even if you get the name wrong and ‘Sally Small’ doesn’t read your cover letter, using a specific name is much more impressive to the reader than “to whom it may concern”.

The Format

While using a generic cover letter or a template isn’t the best way to impress a potential employer, we at the Institute of Careers like to follow a simple format for cover letters. This ensures our clients are covering all the key (employable) points about themselves. After addressing the cover letter correctly (Dear Sally Smalls), now's your chance to explain to the reader your understanding of the role, the company and why you want to work for them. With so many applications being received, you want to be able to set yourself apart and cut through the chatter. Showing an actual interest and understanding in the company, and their work, is a major tick to a future employer. If you need help or inspiration for something to write in this section try to look on the company’s website or social media accounts. However, remember DO NOT PLAGIARISE. You most likely will not be hired if you copy and paste the company’s information straight into your cover letter. After the opening it’s time to explain your experience and skills. Remember to mention the tasks and responsibilities you undertook at your previous jobs, which have a direct correlation to the requirements of the role you are applying for.

Important details to include when explaining your work history and attributes are:

  • The time you worked in your current or previous role (how long for and how long ago)
  • The company
  • Your role title
  • Your role responsibilities

The Ending

To finish off, a quick summary of your interest in the position and what you think you can bring to the role, the company and the working team is a great way to sign off. Reiterate why you’re right for the position. Then end your cover letter professionally, and personalised:


Karen Kat.”

Cover letters can seem like a bit of a drag, but they do in fact serve an important purpose in the recruitment process. To ensure you get that interview, and potentially that job, put your best foot forward and spend a little time on your cover letter. Representing yourself well and showcasing your abilities and professionalism through a cover letter can make a world of difference in the ‘job hunting’ process.

Interview, Job Search, Resume

How to say no (without sounding lazy)

We've all been in the awkies position when asked to do extra work, help on a project or take on more responsibly -  even when these tasks are not part of our job description. There is a fine line between wanting to seem helpful and hardworking, and not having enough time or energy to take on these extra commitments.

But pushing back and saying no is often easier said than done. You don’t want to offend your boss. You don’t want to sound harsh or uninterested and, somehow, you want to seem apologetic and sincere - even if you aren’t!

Here are some phrases to help you with letting down that dreaded ‘favour’ of extra work…

Sorry, I can’t, but thank you for asking!

I can’t now, but maybe next time.

I don’t think I will be able to help for all of it, but let me help with a part of it.

Thank you for thinking of me, but I’m just too busy at the moment.

I’m not taking on any more jobs at the moment, sorry!

I wish I could help, but at the moment I just can’t commit to anything at the moment.

Let me try and work out a few things first, but it’s probably best to work without me.

Thank you, but I’m not the right person for the task, at the moment. Have you asked Maria*?

I’m sorry I just have a bit too much on my plate at the moment.

I’m really sorry; I just don’t think I will be able to make it work at this point.

These phrases will help the person asking for the extra work to understand why you can’t/won’t help on the project. It will also prevent them from believing you just don’t want to help them, or don’t like doing extra jobs. Try practising these phrases by saying them politely and kindly - but also firmly.


About Us

The Institute of Careers is a leading career development and advisory support service, equipping Australian job-seekers and employees with the know-how to supercharge their careers. We offer a wide range of resources, including cheat sheets, FAQs and customisable templates, covering all aspects of professional development – from writing a cracking cover letter, searching for a job and selling yourself in an interview, to landing a promotion and becoming a great manager.