The 3 Ps of Email

Peter Post, Director of the Emily Post Institute and great-grandson of etiquette guru Emily Post, wrote a terrific article on how to create awesome emails.

In this age of quick social media posts and tweets, it’s easy to fall into sloppy habits with email correspondences. A poorly written email can leave a lasting, unfavorable impression.

Peter Post suggests these three Ps for perfect emails:

Public versus private. Again and again, people make the critical error of assuming that what they are writing is a private message intended for only the recipient’s eyes. Big mistake. Emails can be forwarded or sent on to others intentionally or inadvertently with devastating consequences.

Proofread. Mistakes in spelling, grammar, or word choice can reflect poorly on you and leave the recipient wondering if you are careless. Spelling a word incorrectly is certainly a mistake, but if you spell a person’s name incorrectly, he or she will notice and won’t be pleased or easily forgiving. With the advent of auto-correct, spelling errors can go unnoticed. is full of humorous examples of mangled messages. Auto-fill can be helpful, but it also can be devastating. You might start addressing a critical email about your boss to Peter, your friend, but auto-fill nicely completes the address with Peter, your boss, and you don’t notice the error. You’re in big trouble when your boss gets the email meant for your friend.

Patience. It’s easy to hit the send button automatically when you complete your message, especially when you are in a hurry. Unfortunately, it is also unforgiving because once a message is sent, getting it back unread is impossible. (Yes, some programs have a retrieve button, but there’s no guarantee the message hasn’t already been opened by the time you try to retrieve it.)

Here are two pieces of advice that apply patience to your emails:

  • Before you send an email, print it out and take it to a private space. Shut the door and then read it out loud so you can hear the tone in your writing. If you read it silently, you won’t be able to hear the tone as well.
  • Ask a colleague to read your message and then listen to his or her critique. What you thought was a harmless attempt at humor or intended as a neutral tone may be completely misunderstood. Because written messages do not have the added advantages of voice inflection or facial expression, they consistently are perceived as more negative in tone than intended.


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