While emailing has become a somewhat informal mode of communication, an innocent typo or grammatical error can hurt your reputation and the overall argument you are trying to make.
As an online student, you want to make sure you’re using email as an effective way to communicate with your instructors, peers, and academic advisor. Listed below are some common grammatical email errors, according to Kristin Tyndall, senior editor of EAB. I have also added in a few tips of my own, based on my experiences with student emails, in particular, over the last 15 years!
Here are seven things you should check for before hitting send:
Mistake #1: Possessive pronoun confusion
Do not rely on your email server or Microsoft Word to catch every typo. With one letter out of place, it may still be a word, but not the one you meant to use. For example, there vs. they’re, your vs. you’re, its vs. it’s can easily be misused.
Pro Tip: In order to avoid misspellings, read your email backwards, from the last sentence to the first. If it’s an important email, ask a friend or colleague to review it. If possible, step away from the email for an hour or so, and return to it with fresh eyes.
Mistake #2: Misspelled names
When you’re emailing your professor, the last thing you want to do is spell their name wrong. This may be a small detail, but it makes a major impact to the reader.
Pro Tip: The best way to avoid this error is to copy and paste their name from another source, such as their email signature, work profile, or course syllabus.
Mistake #3: Capitalization and punctuation errors
More and more, we use the same informal spelling and grammar in our emails that we use in our texts to friends, family, or colleagues. Perhaps this is due to the explosion of texting.
Pro Tip: If you’re composing the email on your phone, be especially attuned to this mistake and proofread before sending.
Mistake #4: Lacking focus
While this is technically not a grammatical error, it is a common one nonetheless and falls in line with mistakes two and three above. Consider your reader in this situation: Whether you are emailing your supervisor, your instructor, or your colleague, that person wants to know exactly why you are reaching out—and within the first sentence if possible.
Pro Tip: Be direct, specific, and if possible, brief in your question, favor, or presentation idea. Doing so will often afford you a direct response in return.
Mistake #5: Informal language when not appropriate
Again, consider your audience. Is it appropriate to begin an email to your supervisor or instructor with “Hey”? To write in fragments? No!
Pro Tip: The same rules that you apply to your written assignments should also be applied to your emails, including the use of complete sentences and, where necessary, commas, colons, and semicolons.
Mistake #6: Vague words —specifically, “nice,” “good,” “awesome,” and “greatly”
While it’s fine to use these words in your email copy, before hitting send ask yourself if there’s a better way to express your message. Vague words can cause confusion or lose your reader’s attention.
Pro Tip: Instead of reaching for one of these bland descriptors, reflect on what you are trying to say. In other words, be more specific—why was it nice? What was awesome about it?
Mistake #7: Repetition
Using the same word several times within the span of two or three sentences will begin to feel tedious to your readers. Try to mix it up, but be careful not to go so far in the opposite direction that you begin unleashing synonym after synonym.
Pro Tip: Find middle ground and balance your sentences with a variety of appropriate word choices.
Writing any type of communication is a process, and one that requires consistent work and attention. Keep at it, and do not hesitate to reach out to me at any time for assistance! For even more tips and strategies, please visit my Student Writing Support website.
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