Nine tips for avoiding e-mail snafus

E-mail gaffes can be really embarrassing, especially since most of them can be avoided. We'll share some tips on how to avoid some common mistakes.

Ed Rhee
Ed Rhee, a freelance writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area, is an IT veteran turned stay-at-home-dad of two girls. He focuses on Android devices and applications while maintaining a review blog at techdadreview.com.
Ed Rhee
4 min read


If you've ever sent a private e-mail to an unintended party, or forgot to include an attachment in a business e-mail, you're not alone.

Here are nine tips for avoiding common e-mail snafus:

1. Forgetting attachments
"I've attached the document for your review." "Oops, no I didn't." Forgetting attachments is so common that Google's Forgotten Attachment Detector graduated from Google Labs to being a permanent feature in Gmail. The best way to avoid forgetting to include attachments, even if you use Gmail (the forgotten attachment detector is not foolproof), is to attach the file before you begin composing your e-mail. If you wait until you've written your e-mail, your brain may move onto your next task and forget about the attachment.

Forgotten attachment message
Screenshot by Ed Rhee/CNET

2. Blind Carbon Copy
You're probably used to Cc'ing people to invite collaboration at work. But sometimes, Bcc: is the better option. Use blind carbon copy when you're e-mailing a list of people who have nothing to do with each other. For example, if you send out a newsletter, it's common courtesy to send it to yourself and Bcc: the recipients. People can be protective of their e-mail addresses and don't want them to be advertised to everyone on a mass e-mail list. If you receive an e-mail from a sender who should've used Bcc:, it's possible to suggest the feature without sounding like a jerk. CNET Senior Editor Lori Grunin recommends a gentle reply like, "I don't think you meant to send this to everyone. Did you know you could hide addresses with Bcc: ?".

3. Emotional or drunken e-mails
Sending an e-mail when you're overly emotional, or even inebriated, may come back to haunt you. For you Gmail users who think you write your best e-mails after a few drinks, consider activating Mail Goggles in Labs. If you're sober enough to answer a few math questions, then you're good to go. All of us can benefit from some emotional e-mail best practices: when you feel the desire to send an emotional e-mail, go ahead and write it to let off some steam. Save the e-mail as a draft, then wait 24 hours before you hit Send. Chances are, you'll either edit your original e-mail significantly, or delete it altogether. And you'll be happy you waited.

Caps Lock key
Ed Rhee/CNET

This etiquette tip really applies to everything on the Internet. Writing in all caps comes across as shouting and nobody wants to be shouted at. Besides, it's difficult to read something written in all caps. Google wanted to rid the world of all caps so badly, they omitted the Caps Lock key on their Chromebooks entirely.

5. Double-check address autocomplete
Autocomplete can be very handy, but have you ever sent an e-mail to the wrong Ed, Jen, or Bob? Make sure autocomplete filled in the right recipient before hitting Send.

6. Don't rely on spell-check alone
Your browser or e-mail app may do a good job of checking for spelling errors, but you should always proofread your e-mails for grammar. You also have the option of copying your e-mail into Microsoft Word, or similar, running a grammar check, then pasting it back into your e-mail program.

7. Emoticons and Internet shorthand
Emoticons are cute and can help convey humor, sadness, shock, or other emotion that can be difficult to pick up on otherwise. However, including them in business e-mails probably isn't a good idea. If it becomes apparent that the exchange is taking a more casual tone and the other person is using them freely, go for it, but don't punctuate every sentence with a smiley. The same goes for Internet shorthand, like, LOL, ROTFL, and OMG.

Screenshot by Ed Rhee/CNET

8. Trim e-mail threads
Back and forth e-mails can lead to a rather lengthy trail of e-mails being forwarded and replied to. Consider trimming them to the most recent couple of e-mails. A giant e-mail thread looks messy and can make the reader feel overwhelmed. You also want to avoid the thread being forwarded accidentally to someone who wasn't supposed to be privy to some of the previous exchanges.

9. Undo (Gmail)
If you're a Gmail user, an extremely useful feature is the Undo feature. You can undo deletes, archives, labels and more, but the most useful is Undo Send. Undo is your last line of defense against many of the mistakes listed above. Enable it in Settings, under Labs. Then, go to General settings and set the cancellation period to 5, 10, 20, or 30 seconds. If you're not a Gmail user, consider filling out the To: field, right before you're ready to send it. This will help you avoid sending the e-mail accidentally. If you're a Mac user, check out Topher Kessler's tips on preventing accidental e-mails with OS X Mail.

That's it. If you'd like to share any good e-mail snafu stories, please post them in the comments below.