By Genevieve Balivet
Isn’t it strange that no one talks about how nerve-wracking writing an email is? With any email I’ve ever written, doubts and questions have floated through my head: “This is way too informal.” “What if I accidentally offend them?” “I have to make sure there are no errors in this, or else they might think I’m dumb.” I’d never talked about it with anyone; I didn’t realize that others struggle with similar worries. But email writing is something everyone has to do, and no matter what, it seems to carry anxiety with it. So what makes this so intimidating, and how can it be overcome?
One of the scariest things about writing an email is not knowing how the recipient will react. It’s far too easy to imagine a cold, unfeeling person on the receiving end who will knit-pick your email to bits and take offense at the most mundane details. Sometimes you might even worry about being a nuisance to the recipient by simply emailing them in the first place, especially if previous responses from them have been terse. If this is what’s making you anxious, though, keep this in mind: the recipient likely isn’t going to be angry, certainly not for receiving an email from you. Very few people take offense at the contents of an everyday email. And even fewer comb through others’ emails searching for errors, because why would they?
Another major worry is the ever-present problem of grammar. People look over their emails repeatedly, searching for grammar errors that may not be there, fearing one small sentence restructuring might spiral into “messing up” the whole piece. Here’s the key: don’t spend too long looking over your email. Double-checking is always important, but don’t obsess over whether every single detail is correct. Be confident in what you’ve written, and if it helps, get some kind of grammar checker to assist you.
Tone can also be a major stressor, not only in the body of the email, but in signing on and off. You may look at your openings and closures, obsessing over which ones to pick. “Is ‘Dear Ma’am’ too formal?” “How should I address a professor who goes by their first name in class?” “Maybe signing off with only my name doesn’t sound good.” It doesn’t help that the tone we use in an email is often not genuine to how we speak. We tend to put on a different front because this is an email, and it has to be professional. While tone is important to keep in mind (you wouldn’t want to start an email to your employer with, “Hey, C.E.O.!”), it’s not something over which to panic. As long as your tone is fairly consistent, the recipient will likely not pay too much attention to how they’re being addressed. Keep it natural too; if you over-analyze every word, the result can feel stilted. Emails are more like digital conversations than letters, so instead try writing in the way you would talk to the recipient in either personal or professional settings.
Other tips to overcome email-related anxiety:
- Know your audience. Know to whom you’re writing and why, and choose your tone accordingly.
- Revise. Don’t send an email right after you finish writing it. Read through it again, maybe even aloud, to make sure it says what you want it to say. Even a second read-through can make the result much better, so you don’t have to do this a hundred times.
- Edit. It sometimes helps to step away before doing your final editing. Looking at your email with fresh eyes will help you catch any last-minute typos. You can also use a grammar checker if you want to.
- Get feedback. Ask someone else to read through it and give you suggestions, if you’re worried. A second pair of eyes can be extremely helpful in improving any piece of writing, including emails.
As with anything, you are judging your emails more harshly than other people are. Have confidence in what you write! More often than not, people will receive your emails positively.