1. Exclamation points
Exclamation points can be powerful – if you use them sparingly. A wise writer’s maxim states that the only time an exclamation point is appropriate is when it comes after the word "fire."
Needless to say, this rule is somewhat hyperbolic. In reality, exclamation points have great expressive power, so use them now and again when you intend to draw attention to a sentence. Nowadays, exclamation points are considered appropriate both in formal and informal emails, but writers recommend limiting their use to 1-2 per email.
Internet users agreed long ago that capitalizing an entire word or sentence is equal to yelling – even without multiple exclamation points after it. Therefore, it should be reserved for very rare occasions.
In this case, the fire analogy we wrote about just above is to be followed both in letter and in spirit. For good measure, refrain from all caps – unless there’s a really urgent and emotional situation you are discussing via email. In a professional or semi-professional setting, words in all caps are best avoided altogether.
3. Good and bad e-mail greetings
First things first, let’s decide if a greeting is even necessary. Those who are prone to skip the introduction for fear of their correspondence sounding too formal or too familiar, don’t. A 2020 survey by a company called Perkbox found that skipping a greeting was one of the biggest email faux pas.
So, there’s no way out – you’ve got to greet your addressee somehow. The options may be plenty, but not all of them are worth considering. Let’s start with some of the worst greetings.
To whom it may concern,
This is rarely a helpful way to start an email. The only exception is formal letters to companies or officials when you don’t know the addressee's name. In this case, it is indeed a suitable introduction.
In all other cases, naming the person is both more personal and more polite. People sometimes assume that this phrase fits within the context of a group email, but it’s much better to just refer to your colleagues collectively, e.g., “Dear accountants of the Westfield branch...”
Happy Monday, weekend, almost Friday, etc.
This one is much less a mistake than it is a cliché. Many people will read these kinds of messages as ironic, even if you’re genuinely feeling happy that day. After all, most people’s description of a truly happy Monday rarely involves work. The only exception to this rule is holiday wishes, like “Happy New Year” or “Happy Birthday!”
In most cases, a brief but friendly “Hi” or “Good morning” goes a long way. After all, most of us don’t focus on the nature of the greeting – unless it’s very good or bad. But if you want to project care and friendliness, an individualized greeting will always be better than an impersonal one. So, in addition to writing “Hi,” it’s a smart idea to ask questions about the addressee’s life, work, etc. For instance, you may ask how a colleague’s hobby is coming along, much like you would if you were talking to a friend.
I hope this email finds you well
This phrase is so generic and overused that most people ignore it altogether. Again, if you intend to connect with someone, express actual interest in a person instead of just writing empty platitudes. That always has more sentimental value.
Even if you don’t know much about your addressee, you can begin an email by explaining how you received their email or complimenting them. This last trick is especially helpful in a work setting. For example, you could write something like “My colleague speaks wonders of you!” when you’re emailing an accountant you intend to hire.
How are you?
We use it both in writing and everyday speech, but we rarely answer it genuinely, or at all… In fact, the most common reply to it is another “How are you?” While some people may perceive this one as just an old and pleasant convention, others may be irritated by it. So why not shake things up a bit, and just jump straight into the topic at hand?
4. Just following up
This, along with similar phrases that start with “just,” such as “just circling back” or “just checking in,” is a plight of many email conversations. “Just” inhabits both casual and professional email exchanges, and it almost always comes across as weak and insecure. And I should know, as yours truly is leaning on “just” too heavily in her own correspondences.
If you need to remind someone who hasn’t responded to a prior email, do so without any excuses. Instead of writing "Just checking in to see if you're free in the near future" to your friend at work, be direct and write "I'll be by your office tomorrow at 2 PM. Let me know if anything changes." Since the people in my scenario are close acquaintances, the email succeeds at being more informative and compelling without sacrificing politeness.
But even if you don’t want to change much about your email, at least consider deleting the word ”just.” American author Ellen Leanse is a big proponent of dropping it in professional speech altogether. In a statement she posted on LinkedIn, Leanse writes, “I began to notice that "just" wasn't about being polite: it was a subtle message of subordination, of deference. Sometimes it was self-effacing. Sometimes even duplicitous. As I started really listening, I realized that striking it from a phrase almost always clarified and strengthened the message.”
5. I thought I would reach out
This is another common way writers undermine their confidence. Whenever you preface a statement with “I think…” – be it in an email or in a speech – you’re projecting insecurity as if you’re beating around the bush. Instead, drop the “I think,” and express yourself confidently; it always comes across as more positive.
So, in place of writing, "I thought I would reach out," be bold and say "I'd love for us to meet." This point is especially relevant in professional communication – you’ve got to project confidence to be taken seriously.
6. As discussed
"As discussed," "per my last message," and "per our last conversation" – all these phrases do more than just refer to a prior conversation. More often than not, they are used to refresh the reader’s memory of a prior discussion. Since no one likes to be reminded of their mistakes, phrases like these are often perceived as overly formal, demanding, or even passive-aggressive.
Long story short – there is a better way of updating the addressee. Rather than point out their mistake, just briefly summarize or restate the point. In place of “Per my last message, I still haven’t received my order,” say “Unfortunately, I haven’t received my order for over a month.”
Even if the point is significant and time-sensitive, try something like “I want to stress the importance of …” instead of “as discussed.” And if that doesn’t work, it’s usually better to just call or approach the addressee in person, if possible.
7. Sorry for the late response
The beauty of email is that most people don’t expect an immediate response; that’s what texts and phone calls are for. Most often than not, you can confidently delay your response by hours or even until the next day. There’s no need to apologize for an email that you didn’t send right away. After all, drawing attention to your mistake may only make matters worse.
What about those cases where an apology is indeed warranted? Well, remember that we all forget to reply or hit “send” from time to time. So don’t blame yourself for being a bit late. Instead, give your message a positive twist, and write “Thanks for your patience while I...” in place of “Sorry for the late reply.”
8. If not, no worries!
This is another one of those phrases that undermine the writer’s confidence. When you write “I’d like to schedule a meeting tomorrow at 2 PM. If not, no worries!” you’re inviting the addressee to ignore your message.
Of course, giving the reader flexibility is critical, especially if you’re a boss communicating with employees. However, you don’t need to do this at your own expense. Here’s a much better way to phrase the same message: “I’d like to schedule a meeting tomorrow at 2 PM. If you’re game, please update me by the end of the workday.”
9. Looking forward to your reply
Along with “Looking forward to hearing from you” and similar phrases, “Looking forward to your reply” is one of those common phrases email users cannot stand. Why? Well, because it implies an obligation to respond, and so people perceive it as being judgy or entitled.
We recommend that you avoid these phrases altogether. If you really wish for your recipient to reply, ask them a question, or be straightforward and kindly request them to respond within a specific time frame.
10. Sorry to bother you
Why do we apologize when we’ve done nothing wrong in the first place? In many cases, this phrase is merely a convention from the days of the past, and to be frank, it should probably stay that way too. Remember, if you’ve decided to email someone, it means that it’s something necessary or important.
Be brief and to the point instead of overexplaining or apologizing, no matter who the recipient is. After all, saving someone’s time is the most sincere expression of respect. And if you'd like to express your respect for the addressee’s time, do it by showing gratitude with a simple “Thank you.”
11. Thanks in advance
Speaking of gratitude, here’s a curious email conundrum. The Perkbox survey we mentioned earlier clearly stated that this phrase made it onto the top ten list of most annoying email phrases. But why?
Probably because it implies that the recipient will automatically agree to whatever terms the email suggests. In that way, it’s very similar in tone to “looking forward to your reply.” To express genuine appreciation without the added pressure, write “I’d be grateful for your help.”
12. The best and the worst closing phrases
The way you end your email tends to leave a lasting impression too. So there’s a lot of pressure on the way you choose to sign off. Some of the most offensive phrases according to the Perkbox survey were “Warmly,” “Love,” and “Cheers.” These were followed by other outdated and unpopular sign-offs, such as “Yours truly,” “Yours faithfully,” and “Sincerely yours.” Somehow, these closing phrases sound too familiar for professional communication and simultaneously too formal, insincere, and generic for personal emails.
One last unprofessional sign-off we must mention is “Do not hesitate to contact me.” This phrase is absolutely redundant in most settings unless you’re following it up with extra ways to reach you, such as your phone number. In all other cases, just delete it from the email – the addressee already knows they can contact you if they need or want to.
What are some more effective sign-off options? It all depends on the context. If you don’t know the person well, a straightforward "Thank you," “Regards,” or “Best wishes,” will do the job. Genuine and heartfelt "Be well," and "Take care," are also considered appropriate for a variety of conversations, but you’ll probably want to be a bit more personal if you’re writing to a close friend or a loved one.
And with that, our list of email clichés is officially complete. Take care!