Section 5.3

Email Editing Techniques

Too many emailers do not review their email messages before sending them. Others give their messages only the most cursory once-over before pressing “Send.” Get in the habit of editing email. Especially for important communications, it is critical to review your email carefully before transmitting it to others. Some useful editing strategies appear below.

5.3.1 Printing and Proofreading

For most people, it is much easier to catch mistakes in a hard-copy document than it is to see them on a computer screen. If you are sending an important email, print and review the message before sending it.

While some email writers may find the extra step annoying and time-consuming, remember that your communication will likely be immortalized on company servers.

5.3.2 Reading Aloud

Before you send an email, read it out loud to yourself. Reading aloud is an excellent technique to help you edit any type of writing, whether on a computer screen or on paper. It can help you notice missing words, problems with sentence structure, unnecessary repetition, and any number of other stylistic or grammatical issues.

5.3.3 Spell-Checkers

Most people, even excellent spellers, are far better off using their email spell-checkers than not. True, spell-checkers can slow down the email writing process — but more important, spelling errors can slow down the recipient’s reading process! The benefits of using this technological tool outweigh the drawbacks of the delay. You may be surprised at how many typos or misspellings a spell-checker picks up.

A cautionary note, though: do not rush through  the spell-checking process, automatically accepting every spelling suggestion offered to you. Spell-checkers have limitations and may suggest the wrong word for the context. In addition, there are numerous errors they may not notice at all. Suppose Jane means to type, The ban was inadequate, but it is late at night and she is tired, so instead she types:

The van was inadequate.

Your spell-checker will of course view this sentence as correct. A spell-checker isn’t a substitute for careful proofreading.

5.3.4 Editing Partners

For important emails, consider setting up an editing partnership with a colleague. You can read each other’s high-priority email messages and, working as a team, improve overall correspondence quality.

For very significant email communications, it may be a good idea for your department to set up an official system with assigned editing partners and standard review procedures. Such a system can help prevent major errors.

5.3.5 Breaks

Good writers know the importance of breaks to writing quality. Have you ever struggled with a document and decided to put it away for a while, only to discover when you return to it that you have found a solution to whatever writing problem was plaguing you?

If you have to write three emails before lunch, consider writing drafts of all three of them, then cycling back through them one at a time and editing each message before you send it.

Having even five minutes away from an email can help you spot mistakes that you didn’t notice when you composed it.

On the other hand, if you write one in its entirety, read it, then send it, then start the second, completing and sending it before you begin the third, you won’t have a chance to look at any of them with fresh eyes.

The drafting approach proposed here doesn’t need to add time to the email process; in fact, some people find it more efficient because they edit more rapidly when they have a little distance from what they have written.