- Use an inappropriate/unprofessional email address
- Use a generic subject line or even better—leave it blank
- Misspell the person’s name, use the wrong title, or use the wrong punctuation
- Attempt to be the recipient’s best buddy—use an extremely informal tone
- Include these phrases, don’t capitalize words, and use emojis
- Don’t use a closing—or use one that’s too informal
- Forget (or intentionally decide not) to include your name—and don’t include ANY contact information
- You are now equipped with the tools you need to make sure you don’t get replies to your emails
Many of my former students were always worried about their grammar. They worried about their grammar when they spoke. They worried about obscure grammar rules they needed to know for TOEIC or TOEFL tests. They worried about their grammar in the emails they sent as part of their jobs.
Using proper grammar is great. I’m a big fan. But there are many other factors that affect how you are perceived—especially when writing emails. If you’re writing to someone you’ve never met, this will be the first impression you make. Of course, take the time to proofread your email. Make sure you have no spelling mistakes or grammatical errors.
But if you want to make sure you don’t get a reply to your email—do everything on this list. So, let’s start at the beginning. The salutation? Nope. The subject line? Getting closer. I’m talking about something that comes before you write your first word.
Use an inappropriate/unprofessional email address
It was super cool when you signed up with “firstname.lastname@example.org” in university. Your friends laughed every time they opened an email from “email@example.com.” These are classic email addresses. People love old stuff. Keep using those old email addresses for your business correspondence.
It’s likely your company has provided you with an email address. It’s probably based on your name and ends with ‘@yourcompany.com.’ That’s great. But if you don’t have a company email address, carefully consider which personal email address to use. Make a new one if necessary.
Use an unprofessional email address at your own risk. Best case scenario—the recipient thinks you’re unprofessional but still hesitantly reads your email. Worst case scenario—they think your message is spam and they block your email address.
Use a generic subject line or even better—leave it blank
There’s nothing better than getting an email from a stranger with the subject line “hello.” This indicates that this stranger is obviously friendly and you should definitely read their email. It would’ve been so annoying if the subject line had contained a clue about what was inside. I hate that!
Subject lines serve a purpose. They should tell the recipient the topic, or ‘subject’ if you will, of the email. If you get emails as part of your job, you can get hundreds of emails a week. For many people, checking their inbox is task #1 when they get into the office. They decide which emails are urgent and which ones can wait until later.
Your blank subject line gives no clue about what’s in the body of your email, so it gets ignored. Additionally, a lack of a subject line is another way your email can get flagged as spam. Congratulations! Your email address has been blocked again!
Subject lines shouldn’t be too wordy but should indicate what’s inside. There is some debate about whether to use sentence case or title case in subject lines. Capitalizing your subject lines is usually seen as being more professional. There are several tools online that will automatically capitalize your subject line, like this one. Don’t use ALL CAPS—it’s harder to read and appears like you’re shouting.
Misspell the person’s name, use the wrong title, or use the wrong punctuation
So, you’ve managed to avoid the first two pitfalls and actually get the recipient to open your email. At this point, the best way to guarantee they won’t reply is to screw up their name. And you have many options here.
The easiest is to use the wrong name or to misspell it. Nothing says ‘professional’ like misspelling the name of the person you’re trying to impress. People love that!
People also love it when you misgender them (i.e. Ms. Steve Austin / Mr. Rachel Greene). Don’t bother to take the time to double-check how the person writes their name on LinkedIn. And definitely don’t double-check the company website for the correct spelling. That’s much too professional.
I know it’s a very complex and confusing punctuation rule, but the comma always comes at the end of the salutation. Not after dear and not after the person’s title—Dear Mr, Comeau. Whether you choose to go with ‘Dear’ or the more informal ‘Hello’—the comma comes at the end, after the name. Always.
Your salutation can set the tone for the rest of your email. Getting the recipient’s name correct may not score you any points. But getting it wrong will definitely cost you a few.
FYI, here are examples of how students have addressed me in emails over the years:
- Dear Comeau
- Dear Camu
- Hi Comma!
- Dear Mr. Dean,
- Dear, Mr. Comeau
These mistakes were understandable. It wasn’t like my email address was “firstname.lastname@example.org” —or was it?
Attempt to be the recipient’s best buddy—use an extremely informal tone
In your initial communication with a new business contact, it’s important to show how friendly you are. Start your email by asking “How was your weekend? Catch some rays?” This will convey just how friendly you are and how close you feel to this stranger.
The first email you send should be short and to the point. Resist the urge to include too much information, be too casual, or ask too many questions. State your reason for contacting them. If you need information from the recipient, only make one request. If you ask several questions, you’ll likely only get an answer to one question.
Keep the language formal. Don’t use contractions. As you exchange more emails with this contact, your tone will naturally start to become less formal. Follow their lead. If they refer to you by your first name, you can do the same. But initial exchanges should definitely lean more towards being formal than informal.
Include these phrases, don’t capitalize words, and use emojis
We all have so much time these days. It’s great when an email starts with, “Sorry to bother you….” I always feel the genuine angst the author has for infringing on my time. Even better, try using, “Sorry to bother you…i know how busy you are. we’re all busy, amiright?” Informal tone set—mission accomplished. You’re now best friends.
You can always make everything A-OK but ending your email with, “Thank you for reading.” Ah—you thanked me. All is forgiven. 😉
We’re all busy. Keep your emails straight and to the point. Avoid unnecessary filler phrases. If you feel the need to express thanks, you can end your email with “Thank you for your time.” But never end your email with, “Thank you for reading.” Using proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation helps to show you are professional.
Don’t use a closing—or use one that’s too informal
After you’ve thanked your reader for their time, you’re done. The email is over. Sign your name and be done with it. Or don’t even include your name. Keep the person guessing! Ending your business email with “Later” is a great informal way to sign off.
Though somewhat common and unimaginative, it’s solid and never offensive—“Sincerely,” will never be offensive. “Regards,” is also an acceptable closing. But when you start venturing into “Best regards,” or “Warm regards,” you start to chip away at the formal tone you’ve established. It’s always best to err on the side of caution—too polite is always better than crossing a line by being too informal.
Forget (or intentionally decide not) to include your name—and don’t include ANY contact information
Emails traditionally end with your name. It’s a cute way of letting the recipient know who’s sent them an email. But mysteries are fun, aren’t they? Keep ’em guessing. Don’t tell them who you are. Don’t give them your phone number. You wouldn’t want them to actually call you!
If you do want to include your name (you should), how do you write your Korean name in English? Do you go with:
Hong Gil-dong or Gil-dong Hong?
I have thoughts on writing Korean names in English which I may address in a future post. But for now, the easiest way to avoid confusion is to write your name like this:
If your clients are unfamiliar with Korean name formats, you can explain it to them later. Using this format will ensure there is no confusion and will feel familiar to both of you.
You are now equipped with the tools you need to make sure you don’t get replies to your emails
If it wasn’t clear, the parts written in italics are meant to be taken sarcastically. They are examples of what not to do.
Times are changing, and some people advocate that formal emails are a thing of the past. I would argue that being too casual in your first contact can be dangerous. Some people may like it, but others may not.
Again, if the person replies in a very casual tone, you can follow suit. But being formal and polite in your initial contact will help ensure you get a reply to your email.
Important note: These tips of things to avoid are for first contact business emails. If you’re writing a sales email or marketing email, you will actually be encouraged to do many of these things. But for professional business emails, following these tips will serve you well.
If you need help drafting business emails, sales emails, or marketing emails, contact DC CopyPro for help.