How to proofread an email: 7 foolproof steps

Whether a mailed formal letter or a DM through social media, all correspondence leaves an impression. Email is no exception. Poorly written emails can make recipients question the sender’s communication skills, professionalism, and level of caring. These things act as strikes against the employee’s reputation and advancement opportunities.

When writing on behalf of one’s employer, bad emails reflect negatively on the organization. Readers get frustrated by confusing emails that fail to convey necessary information in an understandable manner. Ones that contain typos or grammatical errors look sloppy or incompetent. Customers may question whether the company pays sufficient attention to detail. Would you rather give your business to such a place or one that comes off as polished?

Some folks might benefit from classes to improve their grasp of the English language. For the majority, though, proofreading is the key to writing effective emails. Let’s look at various elements of email messages, things you should double-check, and proofreading tips.

Check the address line

Who is receiving the email? Dangers to look out for here include:

  • Incorrect or old email addresses

  • An email address typed in wrong

  • Failure to send to all intended parties

  • Forgetting to copy someone

  • Copying someone who you meant to blind copy (bcc)

  • Sending an email blast to the wrong group (such as to the whole staff rather than just the C-suite)

  • Forgetting to add new employees to relevant email lists

It’s easy to see how mistakes on this line could have significant consequences. Messages do little good if they are not received. Likewise, embarrassment, confusion, privacy issues, or hard feelings could result if information ends up in the wrong hands.

Tough Talks D

Include an informative subject line

Never leave this line blank! Rather, think of it as an important introduction and your first opportunity to grab a recipient’s attention. A good subject line succinctly clues the reader into the main point: “Meeting changed to 3:00.” “New reimbursement procedures.” “Professional development opportunity.” Recipients open the message ready to hear about the topic. Informative subject lines also make emails easier to later retrieve for a second look.

Check text for errors and formatting

Professionalism and clarity in this section start with basic readability. Select a font that is easy on the eyes rather than ornate. Choose an appropriate size, such as “medium” or “12” (depending on how your email program operates). Keep text black, and avoid using emojis in business emails. And, as you’ve probably heard already, do not compose in all capital letters. It comes across as yelling.

When you proofread emails, do a spell check and a grammar check.

Be on the lookout to correct these common mistakes:

  • Typos

  • Omitted words

  • Inadvertently changing verb tense

  • Punctuation errors, such as incorrect use of commas

  • Passive voice (i.e., say “I received the document” instead of “The document was received by me”)

  • Words that sound alike (such as “your” vs. “you’re” and “there” vs. “their” vs. “they’re)

  • Improper syntax (such as word order and subject-verb agreement)

Also, conduct an accuracy assessment. Double-check the spelling and correctness of proper nouns. Not getting a person’s name right or misspelling the company’s name leaves a particularly bad taste. Likewise, are all dates, places, and times correct? The last thing you want an email to do is distribute the wrong information.

Passing along an attachment with your message? Before hitting send, be sure to include it. Such add-ons are very easy to forget.

Pick an appropriate closing

This last part of an email varies by recipient. When emailing a familiar colleague, a simple “Best,” “Thanks,” or “Regards” followed by your name suffices. Email messages to someone you do not know well, people outside of the company, and customers require full information. Include your name, title, company, and contact information. Consider putting in your preferred pronouns either for the recipient’s benefit or to show support for inclusive efforts. Many business email systems are set up to automatically put your closing information on everything you send.

Review for length and clarity

Some emails distribute a good deal of information. They serve as a convenient point of reference and may even replace the need for a meeting. When faced with a lengthy email, though, some recipients will not bother with it. Others will just skim and potentially miss important stuff. Thus, the challenge becomes making the email reader-friendly.

Avoid constructing a block of text. Rather, break up information into paragraphs. Organize information logically, perhaps with similar items under a descriptive, bold heading (such as Important Dates or Action Items). Keep an eye out for wordiness. Filler words such as “very” and “really” do little for your message other than add length.

When you reread what you have written, evaluate for clarity. Can people easily follow what you are saying? Might you need to add some background information to fill in knowledge gaps? Can you improve the flow through better transitions between paragraphs? Are you sure acronyms or abbreviations are familiar enough to use, or should you write them out on first use? Make adjustments as necessary.

Double check the tone

Professional emails convey more than just words. They leave recipients with an overall feeling. Whether with a colleague or a customer, you want to set the right tone.

A first rule of thumb: Never perform email writing when angry. You may end up composing things you’ll later regret. Take time to cool off. Write and proofread when in a better state of mind.

While blatant anger should be easy to catch and fix, watch out for snark. Emails are increasingly becoming an outlet for passive-aggressive behavior. In a study conducted by Preply — a language and corporate communication tutoring service — 83% of respondents said they have received a passive-aggressive email in work communication. And on the flip side, 44 percent of respondents confess to having sent passive-aggressive messages in their professional capacities. When proofreading, consider that the reader may take offense to phrases such as:

  • Per my last email

  • Correct me if I’m wrong

  • As previously mentioned

  • Just a gentle reminder

  • Going forward

  • Thought I’d bring this to your attention

  • I might be mistaken but

As a side note, watch out for over-dependence on email. While quick and convenient, it is not always the best choice for communication. Sensitive or emotional subjects benefit from talking face-to-face (in person or by video chat). These methods are more personal and provide the opportunity to judge body language and reaction.

Get a second opinion

Extremely important emails merit extra eyes and ears. First, proofread the document yourself. Some people find it helpful to read it aloud so they “hear” mistakes or things that could be written better. Then, enlist the proofreading services of a trusted colleague. Fresh eyes may catch unwanted grammar mistakes, and fresh ears may identify problems such as confusing sentences or an immature tone. When you feel confident of having produced an error-free, well-written email, you can finally hit send!