15 Email Mistakes You’re Probably Pissing People off With

Modern, tech-centric etiquette is a lot more complicated than the codified rules of table manners or dinner party decorum. Social media etiquette gets sticky faster than you can type out an ill-advised status update. Texting has its own set of rules, which outnumber the Ten Commandments. And email etiquette is even more confusing than the perennial battle to keep all of the Michaels and Ashleys and Christophers straight in your address book.

Email, in particular, is an easy place to make mistakes. Some of those mistakes are pretty harmless, but others can be extremely annoying to the people with whom you correspond. In fact, you’ve probably pissed somebody off with a message at one point or another. Read on to check out some of the most common email mistakes, and learn what you should avoid doing in the future.

1. Hitting “Reply All” or “CC” or “BCC” when you shouldn’t

Woman working in home office

Hitting “Reply All” when you shouldn’t is a rookie mistake, and it’s one that can get you and other people in trouble | iStock.com/undrey

Improper use of the “Reply All” option is a notoriously annoying email mistake. (And it’s one that has the potential to embarrass many people in the process.) Many others find themselves in hot water when they accidentally click “CC” or “BCC” on an email without knowing it as well. You should always avoid copying people who don’t need to see an email. And before you send your message, check the recipient list. Make sure that you aren’t replying to a group if you meant to write back to an individual (or vice versa), and ensure that your message won’t go to somebody who shouldn’t see it. 

2. Forgetting to add a promised attachment

young woman working with laptop

Don’t embarrass yourself by forgetting to add the attachment that you promised in the body of your email | iStock.com/nensuria

Forgetting to actually add an attachment is a rookie mistake, and one that’s pretty annoying if you don’t catch it. It’s even worse if the recipient of your message has to (awkwardly) ask you to send the attachment along. You should always check over your messages before sending them — that includes making sure that whatever attachments you’ve promised are actually attached before you hit “Send.” 

3. Writing extremely long messages

Businessman or designer using laptop computer

Writing a long and rambling message may help you gather your thoughts, but it doesn’t say good things about your level of respect for the recipient | iStock.com/BrianAJackson

There are times when it’s okay to ramble or to work through a problem by writing out a variety of different ideas. An email is almost never the right place or time. If you make a habit of sending extremely long messages, you’re making it obvious that you think everyone else’s time is less valuable than yours. Stay courteous, keep things brief, and always proofread. Chances are good that when you read your message through again, there are parts that you can delete to make the point more clear. Punctuate run-on sentences and nix unnecessary paragraphs to make things more brief and easier to read. 

4. Making rampant spelling and grammatical errors

businessman sitting in front of laptop screen

Tons of spelling and grammar errors will annoy the recipient of your message and make it obvious that you didn’t take the time to proofread | iStock.com/Ridofranz

Just as you should proofread your messages to make them as clear and concise as possible, you should also proofread to eliminate as many spelling and grammatical errors as you can. We all occasionally send a message with a typo or two. And most of the time, those won’t be that noticeable. But if you routinely send messages that are full of spelling and grammar errors, you won’t make a good impression on the people you’re emailing. In fact, they’ll probably find it annoying that you can’t be bothered to give your messages a quick once-over before hitting “Send.” 

5. Choosing the wrong subject line for your message

Man working on his laptop in cafe

Take some time to choose the correct subject line for your message, and you’ll be more likely to get a timely response | iStock.com/Anchiy

It’s no mystery that everybody gets entirely too many emails each day. And a vague subject line just gives the recipient of your message another reason to skip over it. The right subject line makes sure that people know what your message relates to and that it’s actually important for them to open and respond to it. But the wrong subject line may leave them wondering. It could leave the urgency of the message ambiguous, or it could demand attention and project an obnoxious sense of self-importance — which is sure to annoy the recipients of your email. 

6. Marking all of your messages as urgent

 young woman holding phone and coffee

If you want people to trust your sense of priorities, then don’t make the mistake of marking every message as “urgent” | iStock.com/Astarot

Some messages are urgent and should be marked as such. But one of the most annoying email mistakes is marking all, or most, of your messages as “urgent.” If you’re guilty of overusing the urgent setting in your email, it won’t take long for people to catch on. They’ll start assuming that none of your messages are urgent, which may mean that you’ll get slow responses even when the issue at hand does merit quick action. (Think of it as a modern-day version of The Boy Who Cried Wolf.)  

7. Excluding important people from the conversation

businessman using internet on smartphone

Excluding people from an email conversation can come with some headache-inducing consequences later | iStock.com/anyaberkut

Depending on your office’s policies (and politics), there may be people that should be included in a conversation even if they won’t have anything critical to contribute immediately. If you neglect to include somebody important in your email thread, chances are good that they’ll find out later — usually when somebody else copies them on a message a dozen emails down from the origin of the thread. You can avoid an awkward situation by thinking carefully about who needs to be included at the start of a thread. 

8. Adopting the wrong tone, or making ill-advised attempts at humor

Woman using smartphone and tablet outside

Because it’s so easy to misconstrue jokes and humor in an email, don’t adopt the wrong tone | iStock.com/Oinegue

Everybody knows that sarcasm and humor are difficult to convey in writing, whether in an email or a text. A comment that would come off as funny in person is much harder to parse when written. So it’s usually a bad idea to adopt a sarcastic tone or to make a joke in an email. To avoid annoying or offending people, keep things as professional and courteous as you can. Save the jokes for the next time you talk with the person face-to-face or even on the phone. And if you’re emailing a colleague or a client with whom you work closely, try not to sound too formal in your emails.

9. Refusing to properly capitalize in your messages

Mail icon on screen of computer

Make sure that you’re punctuating your emails appropriately | iStock.com/PashaIgnatov 

If somebody takes the time to send you a professionally composed email with proper capitalization and punctuation, it’s a basic courtesy to do the same when you write a response. It’s rude and unprofessional to reply with an all-lowercase email, and it doesn’t look respectful to the recipient of your email. Most people don’t mind emoji and GIFs in their messages, but you should at least do them the courtesy of writing a message that’s readable. Appearing like you can’t be bothered to properly format your message typically isn’t a good look. 

10. Using excessive abbreviations

Man is typing on keyboard

If you use excessive abbreviations in your emails, you’ll look unprofessional | iStock.com/BernardaSv

Depending on your workplace, your co-workers and superiors may be fine with you punctuating your messages with GIFs, emoji, and an abbreviation or two. But if you abbreviate every other word in your emails to your colleagues or clients, that doesn’t send a good message. It may look like you aren’t taking enough time to adequately handle the conversation. And it can make your messages harder to read, especially if your boss isn’t up to date on the latest abbreviations and slang. 

11. Sending too many messages, especially ones that are unnecessary

Stressed business woman in the office

Make sure that you’re only sending messages that are absolutely necessary | iStock.com/kieferpix

Everybody’s inbox is overloaded. Do your part and avoid making things worse. With each message you write, consider whether it’s a necessary addition to the conversation at hand. And always think carefully about whether you really need to send the message to everyone on the recipient list. Make sure that the conversation you’re having is best conducted over email, and that the issue couldn’t be cleared up with an instant message conversation, a brief call, or even a face-to-face meeting. And try to avoid sending tons of messages when you could just compose a single message that says everything at once. 

12. Replying unreasonably quickly

woman and man at home typing on laptop

Make sure you give some thought to your responses before sending the email | iStock.com/BernardaSv

In some situations, a person who’s emailed you is likely hoping for a quick reply. But it quickly gets on people’s nerves if you respond to every message they send you within minutes. Most people aren’t expecting you to be sitting with your smartphone in hand, ready to respond in mere seconds. Lightning-fast responses put undue pressure on the other person (or people) in the conversation. And, in the worst-case scenario, this can give your superior the impression that you’re neglecting your other duties and spending too much time in your inbox. 

13. Addressing a message “to whom it may concern”

young woman using laptop

Always find a name for the person you’re emailing if you don’t know who they are | iStock.com/SolisImages

Addressing an email “to whom it may concern” is annoying to the person receiving the message. It shows that you haven’t done your research and haven’t taken the time to figure out who you should be talking to. Even including the name of the department or adding something as generic as “dear hiring manager” will show that you’ve thought a little more about the person on the other end of the conversation. 

14. Choosing a pretentious email signature

businessman is typing on keyboard

Make sure your email signature is appropriate for all to see | iStock.com/opolja

There was a time when people thought it was cool to use the iPhone’s default “Sent from My iPhone” email signature. Many people have replaced that the line with one of their own, typically trying to add something witty or funny. But if your signature could be interpreted as pretentious or boastful — as some people interpret “Sent from My iPhone” — you may be better off foregoing the signature altogether. 

15. Making it clear that you haven’t thoroughly read the thread

headache during work at the office

Make sure that you’ve read through the whole email thread before replying so that you know what you’re talking about | iStock.com/gpointstudio

If you’re replying to a message in the middle of a lengthy email thread, you owe it to everybody in the conversation to make that you’re caught up on what’s already been said. Don’t ask questions that have already been answered. Avoid being careless about details that have already been discussed at length (and will have to be brought back onto the table if you mix up the specifics). Don’t misspell the names of people who were introduced mid-thread. And try not to speak over the people who are more informed about the project or issue at hand by drawing your own hasty conclusions.

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