In the business world, emails are often the most efficient form of communication. You type out what you want to say, you send it, and you go about your day while awaiting a response.
Their increasing popularity over the last few years proves as much, with the number of emails sent and received per day in 2015 totaling over 205 billion. By 2019, that number is expected to increase to 246 billion.
If emails are the new norm, we have to make sure that we don’t turn our fellow professionals away with poor email etiquette.
One spammy word in a subject line could cause a prospective client to press the ‘delete’ button (or cause an email to end up in spam), and then you’ve got one hell of a missed opportunity on your hands.
There are a few words that you should ALWAYS avoid at all costs. You’ll find them, and some suitable alternatives, below.
I’m putting this one at the very top of the list because it’s the word I’m most guilty of overusing. It’s intentional, while cloudy, is to make the recipient feel more at ease by your request. “I’m just emailing about the project” or “I’m just checking in” makes it seem like you aren’t serious.
What to use instead: Nothing. The word “just” isn’t necessary, so you should cut it out. Stick with the solid facts and don’t try to soften your email with unnecessary filler words.
2. “Stuff” and “Things”
In addition to being a truly spectacular meme based off of a line from AMC’s The Walking Dead, the words “stuff” and “things” will kill the merit of your email faster than Daryl Dixon kills zombies with his crossbow.
“Please call me so we can discuss a few things” is not a good email.
What do you want to discuss?
What to use instead: That depends entirely on what the stuff and things in question are. Are they issues? Problems? Concerns? The vague informality of “stuff” and “things” aren’t meant for professional emails. Be specific.
3. “Really” and “Very”
I’m really sick of seeing these very overused words all the time. It’s like people are really trying to bring their point home, but it’s becoming very forced.
Here’s the deal: “really” and “very” are the words people use when they don’t know another word.
If you want to say that a person is ‘really happy’, you should say they’re delighted, ecstatic, elated, etc. If you want to say that a person is ‘very sad’, you should say that they’re devastated, heartbroken, melancholy, etc.
See what I did there?
What to use instead: Try to think of a synonym for the word that you’re describing as “really” or “very”. Chances are that a much more professional word already exists out there in the English language, and you’ll look a heck of a lot more intelligent if you use it!
4. Text Lingo and Emojis
LOL! U gotta b kidding me!!!! :-)
This is not okay.
It’s one thing if you’re sending an email to a friendly coworker to brighten their day — we all have phones and we all text, so it’s not like the lingo is going to be foreign to anyone — but it’s something else entirely if this is a company-wide email being sent to your superiors.
It’s unprofessional and makes you look silly.
There’s nothing worse than having someone sign an email with ten emojis.
There are specific places in your professional life where you can and should show your personality, just not in emails where you don’t have a relationship with the other party.
What to use instead: Stick will full sentences. If you want to convey emotion, it’s acceptable to use the occasional happy face (it can be very difficult to read people via email, so this may be your attempt at lightening things up a bit), but don’t go overboard.
Humans apologize. A lot. If you bump into someone, you’re sorry. If you cough too loud, you’re sorry. If you miss a deadline, you’re sorry. After a while, the word starts to lose its meaning.
Our overbearing need to apologize over every little thing makes the times that we DO need to apologize seem a little disingenuous, doesn’t it? Beyond that, the word makes you sound like you lack self-confidence.
If you continue to apologize for every single thing you do wrong, your peers will begin to feel that you’re the kind of person who doesn’t know how to stand on their own two feet.
What to use instead: Skip the apologies when they’re unnecessary. If you really do screw up and an apology is in order, try an “I apologize” instead. It sounds more sincere, isn’t quite as overused, and still maintains that important level of professionalism.
Honestly, I can’t stand this word. It’s right up there with “literally” now as one of the most overused words of all time. When you say it, although the meaning of the word is to convey trust, you just sound… less honest. I don’t know how it happens, but it’s the truth.
If you’re being honest, you don’t need to spell it out for someone (literally) by saying “honestly” at the start of the sentence.
What to use instead: Let your words speak for themselves. “Honestly” is a filler word anyway, and I assure you that it doesn’t make you sound more honest. Skip it altogether and get to the point.
When you say this, everyone knows that you mean well.
You want to convey a sense of emergency, whether you are requesting that something be done “ASAP” or you are promising to do something “ASAP”.
The problem with this, however, is that it’s entirely non committal. ASAP means “as soon as possible”, right?
So when is that, exactly?
Is it right now?
In an hour?
How is anyone supposed to know when as soon as possible actually is?
Phrases like this leave you open to miscommunications — you assumed it meant tomorrow, they assumed it meant in an hour, and now you’re both screwing up deadlines.
What to use instead: Give them a set time period. Tell them that you want something done by this time, or that you will do your best to do something at that time. Be straight forward and skip out on the awkward small talk and miscommunication by outright saying “I will get you that final piece by 4pm today.”