I’ve had friends confess on more than one occasion that they dread sending me emails — seems they fear I’ll think less of them because of spelling or grammar errors.
I’m not going to fib and say I don’t see the mistakes in their writing. As the Goddess of Grammar, I admit my eyes have a mind of their own and zero in on newspaper typos, store sign misspellings and other public grammar gaffes along with my peeps’ online writing blunders.
My friends should rest easy, though. I really couldn’t care less if they know the difference between “its” and “it’s” or if they misplace a modifier when they shoot me a quick email to finalize plans for the weekend. Because just as there is a time and place for sensible close-toed heels and knee-length skirts as there is a time for scruffy jeans and flip flops, there also is a time to pay attention to email content and a time for the who-gives-a-hoot attitude.
The critical factor: Audience.
So before clicking on the send button, all emailers should step back and ask themselves the following three audience-related questions:
- How well do I know the email recipient? Understanding your status in the eyes of a reader influences the words and content you choose as well as how much time you need to devote to proofreading. Formality of language, amount of background, and attention to grammar and spelling must be based upon whether your email target is a business acquaintance, a prospective customer or a personal friend.
- What are my reader’s needs and expectations? Email is designed to serve as a quick form of communication, so take time to determine exactly what your reader needs and expects to ensure you aren’t wasting his or her time. Getting it right the first time around helps cut down on frustrating back and forth messages and may keep you from looking like you haven’t got a clue.
- Who are possible unintended readers of my email? We’ve all received forwarded emails or were copied on responses when the original note was not meant for our eyes. Take this as a lesson and make the assumption that any email — yes, ANY email — you send has the potential to be seen by someone other than the original recipient, whether on purpose or by accident. Ignoring the possibility of a future email trail not only may lead to personal embarrassment, but also may put the organization or company you represent in legal jeopardy.
Hopefully, my friends are now resting easier knowing that the Scrooge of Syntax is fine when they confuse “there” as “they’re” or throw in “OMG,” “WTF” and cute keyboard smileys. When it comes to their emails to me, I’m just happy to hear from them.
They should not, however, confuse these personal notes with those that are more likely to reflect on them in a negative way, either personally or professionally.
The use of email as a communication form isn’t likely to wane, as shown by one research report projecting the daily number of global email messages to grow to 507 billion by 2013. Paying attention to your audience will help ensure your emails deliver the right message and make the best impression about you.