How to avoid an embarrassing mistake in Outlook

Have you ever sent an e-mail to the wrong person? If you’re lucky, it didn't matter. However, it could be an embarrassing and even critical error. For instance, let's suppose you have two clients named John. You sent John Smith your regular fee schedule. Later, while negotiating a new project with John Smythe, you offer a discount. Oooops! Outlook just sent the discounted fee schedule to John Smith instead of John Smythe, as you intended. Just how did that happen?

It really isn't Outlook’s fault. Usually, this kind of error occurs when you're in a hurry or distracted. You type John into the To box, take the first hit, and send — without realizing that Outlook's AutoComplete feature chose the wrong John. It happens....

There are two ways to complete an e-mail address:

  • Click the To button to view the Select Names dialog box, which displays names in first name order (unless you’ve changed the sort order). You select the name and continue.
  • You start typing a name in the To box. Based on the characters you enter, Outlook's AutoComplete feature displays a list of possible choices. As you enter more characters, Outlook narrows the list.

The second method is the one that can get you into trouble. The AutoComplete feature updates its list so fast that it's easy to select the wrong item. It's a great feature, but prone to mishaps if you're not careful. You can disable AutoComplete as follows:

  1. In the Mail window, choose Options from the Tools menu.
  2. Click E-mail Options.
  3. Click Advanced E-mail Options.
  4. Uncheck the Suggest Names While Completing To, Cc, And Bcc Fields option.
  5. Click OK three times.

The truth is, AutoComplete is helpful and you might not want to disable it. I use it almost exclusively.

Another problem is that Outlook maintains a history of all the addresses you enter, not just the ones you store in the Address book. These names make their way onto the AutoComplete list, even if you don't want them. Additional names can throw a monkey-wrench into your routine if you don't expect them. When one of these names shows up, simply delete it before it gets you into trouble.

Finally, the best advice is the least helpful. Try to slow down and pay attention to the AutoComplete list. Okay, I'm obligated to say that, even though I don't always practice what I preach. Carry on as best you can, forewarned.

By Susan Harkins

Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.