First impressions count; email mistakes can cost you

Q: I run Microsoft Essentials for virus protection. Does this program also protect from spyware and adware? If not, what would you recommend adding? — Darryl Aubrey

A: It does. So you’re fine.

Just as a side note, you should never run more than one anti-virus program at a time. But you’d be OK running another anti-adware/spyware program if you like. It’s sure not required though.

Q: Are you familiar with “pop-up blockers”? Despite using CCleaner and professional software for spyware, most times when I use the Internet, pop-ups clog the screen in short order. — Edward Krull

A: Let’s start here.

Go to this page:

And follow steps 1 and 2. Do not follow any of the steps after that. Do not download or use any of the programs it recommends, or download any programs that are available on that page. Just steps 1 and 2. After you do all that, restart your computer.

Some of the programs listed may or may not work. But I don’t want you to try any of them. So we’re just making browser setting changes.

Q: I read something within the last few days where you said you use an online backup service for your data. I am one of those guilty parties who does not back up, yet I know the importance of doing so — go figure.

I think you’ve convinced me I have to do something. Might I know the name of your service please? My other question relates to anti-virus software for a new Macbook Pro. I will be switching over from a PC to a Mac very soon. Apple says I do NOT need to purchase any anti-virus software for the new Macbook Pro I will be purchasing. Kaspersky says I definitely still need to purchase additional protection. Who is correct? — Mary-Elizabet Seabrook

A: Hi Mary, I use an online backup service called Carbonite — There are mixed opinions, including from experts, on whether Macs need anti-virus software. I don’t use anti-virus with my Macs and feel comfortable with that decision. But it isn’t crazy to do it, especially if that keeps you from worrying. Besides, as you’ve discovered, some reputable businesses and experts do recommend it, so there’s a case to be made — it’s just one that I haven’t bought into.

When an email from a reader arrives in my in-box, the sum total of what I know and think about that person comes from how the email is constructed. Are they smart? Sort of slow-witted? Polite?

I can’t see the real you — just the email you wrote. So it carries a lot of weight.

It’s no big deal if I end up thinking your IQ is somewhere between that of a daffodil and a steam engine. But that same first impression matters when you are communicating for work, or when you are writing an email that could impact your life. Fair or not, people treat idiots differently that they do smart people. Same deal when you appear rude.

I’m not saying that everyone who sends an email with misspelled words and poor grammar is an idiot. Or a jerk. That’s just not true. But I am saying it can make a smart person look like an idiot.

This is a big deal in a world where résumés are routinely sent in by email, where job inquiries and customer contacts are done with email. Sloppy emails can cost you. So today we’ll talk about a few ways to make sure your emails make the right impression.

Borrow a trick from an aging reporter

When I write a column I let the thing sit for a day or two and then I read it again. Often times if I read it immediately after I write it I’ll skim over fairly obvious mistakes. I realize you don’t have the time to wait that long. But do the best you can. Save important emails as a draft and wait — even if it’s just a few minutes — then read it again looking for mistakes.

Here’s another newsroom-inspired tip

Everyone needs an editor. Outside eyes find things that the writer skimmed over. So — with important emails only — get a spouse or friend to double-check your work. You’ll be amazed at what you missed.

Practice makes perfect

Here’s a tip that I need to follow more often myself. There’s a temptation not to worry about grammar and spelling when writing to a close friend. Sometimes I will look at some of the emails I have sent and feel embarrassed at the ugly mess. Sure, my friends and family will forgive me. But when I’m careless with those emails the bad habits can carry over to times when it is important to be correct. So we all need to do a better job, even when writing informal emails.

Spell-check nightmare

By all means do use any spell-check feature your program has. But also keep in mind that these programs will miss some mistakes as well as suggest some changes that are dead wrong. So check for spelling this way. First review all the words the spell-checker has flagged as being misspelled. Then — if the words are misspelled — see what change the spell-checker recommends. It won’t always be correct, so double-check that.

Make it simple

Simple and short sentences are the best way to communicate. Try to be direct — don’t beat around the bush. Avoid using fancy words. Some people think using some esoteric word makes them look smart. Take my word — it doesn’t. Your job is to communicate.

Get to the point

Sum up what you want in the first sentence. Explain the purpose of the mail in one sentence, two at the most. Then tell the person what you would like them to do to help you. Thank them in advance for the help. Once that’s done, stop.

Be nice

At times we all need to write an email trying to get help for some wrong that we believe has been done to us. Maybe you’ve been overcharged, or perhaps you believe a merchant cheated you. The temptation is to try to look aggressive and tough. Instead, be polite. You can be firm without being a jerk. Think about it for a moment: Do you believe that being rude to someone will increase the odds they’ll help you?

Look, none of this requires big time computer skills. And by spending the extra effort to make a good impression with our emails, you’ll look better — and get better results — when dealing with others.