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

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