Tag Archives: Typo

First impressions last

Have you ever rolled your eyes when an email popped in? Assumed something is junk mail on the basis of the poor English in the subject line? Or made a judgment about a person or a company because of the first impression they made with their email?

Email subject lines are important. They are easy to get right. And they are so often messed up.

This isn’t a blog post about how to write effective email subject lines – there’s plenty of that on the internet. This is about how to avoid five common mistakes that affect the first impression you make electronically.

Full of typos

When you’re firing off a million emails a day, it’s easy to make spelling errors. It’s also easy to identify them, thanks to the lovely red squiggly lines we all appreciate deeply. Unfortunately, subject lines of emails don’t afford us that luxury.

‘Check out this new atricle about scniece’

One way to eliminate these errors is to write the subject line in the email body or in Word first to check it. However, this won’t pick up the best typos: when the mistakes create actual words – like ‘best’ to ‘bets’. My favourite ever email subject line went something like this:

‘New research has impact on pubic policy’


Tip: check carefully for typos – especially the invisible kind.

Badly punctuated

There is no excuse to omit an apostrophe in an email subject line. It baffles me how often people fail to punctuate their subject lines properly. And simply because they are short and not covered by the standard spell check service as the main body of the email. That’s laziness.

‘Biziorek, Wed like to welcome you back to Kaiser Permanente’

In this example, provided by Travis Biziorek, the company Kaiser has missed the apostrophe in we’d. The result is jarring, unprofessional and annoying.

Another thing with noting about this is the capital letter of ‘Wed’. Presumably this is the result of the recipient’s surname being automatically entered into the subject line, and the person responsible for the text probably thought it looked more acceptable starting with ‘W’ in the absence of the name.

Tip: check your subject line carefully for correct punctuation.

Too complicated (and wrong)

People notice when your grammar is wrong. Some people will tell you: Matt Korostoff is a man I can relate to. On this forum, he politely informs Bibucket that the subject line of one of their automated emails is grammatically incorrect, because ‘I thought you would like to know.’ Thumbs up to Matt, and thumbs up to Zach Davis from Bitbucket, who responds ‘Thanks Matt… this will definitely be changing (to the “You have been granted…” form, if you’re curious)…’

The subject line of the original email was: ‘You have hereby been granted write access to organization-name/repo-name.’

When I read this the word ‘hereby’ jumps out at me. Why? It’s unnecessary. It’s old-fashioned. It’s almost certainly grander than it needs to be.

Tip: treat your subject line like any other sentence. Read it aloud. If it sounds wrong it probably is wrong.


These days we don’t all boot up a desktop computer to read our emails. Between smartphones, tablets and pop-up notifications, email subject lines get squeezed and distorted in all sorts of ways. You really have to think about this when writing them, as pointed out by Bill Lampton, PhD on this Business Know-How blog:

‘When I received my copy of the New York Times online, the title of one article was supposed to read: “No one sure what will happen to Ken Lay’s assets.” Because the title was too long to fit the allotted space, the ETS got cut from ASSETS.’

Tip: cut your subject line in different places to make sure it makes sense, makes an impact and doesn’t make anyone giggle.


Groupon’s got this one in the bag:

‘Father’s Day deals for the man who gave birth to you’

Tip: it’s always best not to say something completely stupid in your subject line. If you’re unsure about what you’re saying, ask a colleague/friend/sanity checker to read it before you hit send.

It’s pretty simple – just pay attention and pause before you send. Read the subject line. If it’s bad, it will make you look bad. And if it’s the start of a long exchange of emails, it could wind up making you look bad repeatedly.

From now on, if I receive an email with a subject line that falls under one of the categories I’ve listed here, I’ll correct it. Will you?

The improtance of proof reading: how to choose your sanity checker

How did that headline make you feel about me and this blog? Disappointed? Angry? Slightly smug?

You’re running the risk of people thinking bad things about you and your product/company/brand by failing to proof read your text effectively. It’s not something you can do yourself, so you’ll need to choose a sanity checker.

Would you pay £12 to be taken to St Pancreas? (I think I might… it sounds like a terrifying adventure.) Thanks to Nico (@nfanget) for the photo!

Whenever I’m planning to issue a press release, send out an email campaign or post an important form, I call on one of my sanity checkers to read the text and identify typos. (They earn the name as a result of my reaction to them finding errors: ‘I must be mad to have missed that!’)

I said sanity checkers plural – that’s important. People have to have holidays. People get sick. They don’t all work in your office and live in your house. And if, like me, you produce a lot of writing, you can’t expect one person to check every word.

Choosing your sanity checkers can be tricky, so here are my top tips.

1. Look for attention to detail. It’s no use choosing someone who doesn’t notice typos. See number 2.
2. Test them. Plant a few typos, wrongly placed apostrophes, double spaces. See if they notice.
3. Don’t choose your co-writer/editor. Your sanity checker should not be familiar with the text you ask them to check. That’s the easiest way to miss mistakes.
4. Pick someone who won’t show off. There’s nothing worse than haughtiness in a proof reader.
5. Pick someone honest. It’s pointless having a sanity checker who’s too shy or polite to tell you about typos.
6. Go for a native speaker. In an ideal world, they will be checking their natural language, making it easier for them to spot mistakes.
7. Make sure they can work MS Word. Like it or not, we write using Word. So make sure they understand how to track changes.
8. Check that they follow instructions. You don’t want endless comments and suggestions on your style of writing and argument structure at proofing stage.
9. Favour convenience. Yes, it’s easy to work with someone in Mongolia thanks to the internet. But is it convenient? If you need quick feedback, choose someone who’s awake at the same time of day as you.

What do you look for in a sanity checker?