This week a friend was listening to me dictate a text message. She said, “You use a lot of exclamation marks.” She didn’t mean it as a compliment. Unfazed, I responded “It’s because you cannot tell tone in emails and texts.” In fact, I believe that just like some people suffer from resting bitch face, emails and texts sound naturally bitchy. Without hearing tone of voice and seeing body language, emails read negative. This negative tone is especially problematic in business emails. Hence my love of exclamation marks.

Exclamation marks get a bad rap. And I do agree that using too many of them can make you come across like a 6th grade girl. But I believe judicious use of exclamation marks is important to convey tone in emails.

How to fix Your E-Mail Tone

Don’t try to overcompensate resting bitchy e-mail by writing like a text message. Don’t use emoticons. Don’t use texting abbreviations like LOL or IDK. As parents are fond of saying, use your words.

Keep it short and sweet. When at all possible, emails should only be a few short paragraphs. Do not make people scroll down to continue reading. Often they won’t so they miss vital information. And it will be tempting to reply in an irritated tone.

Before you start writing take a moment to think about what action you want out of this e-mail. Do you want a yes to your request? A new meeting on the schedule? Time off for vacation? Write your e-mail with your end result in mind. Knowing what you want the reader to think and do will help you craft a concise, clear message.

Organize your e-mail. Use bullet points, numbered lists, and bold titles to make the information easy to read and remember.

Before you hit send, read your e-mail three times for typos. One of those times, read it out loud to help catch typos and nasty tone. If you still are not sure of the tone, call a friend and read the e-mail to them to get their feedback. Finally, think about who you’re sending it to and what your relationship is with them. If it’s at all contentious, is there any language that you need to change to sound more congenial? In general, it never hurts to adjust your language and consider throwing in an exclamation point or two.

Never write in all caps. It comes across as SHOUTING. (It always reminds me of the wonderful Discworld books by Terry Pratchett where Death speaks in capital letters.)

Beware of corporate email jargon. For those of us in corporate jobs, there are a lot of common email phrases that have loaded meanings. Here a few:

Sometimes you have to use them (or you just can’t help yourself). Be aware they can covey a negative tone. I suggest avoiding corporate email speak whenever possible.

This e-mail is brought to you by the exclamation mark!

Wading through work emails isn’t fun. But taking the time to review your writing before you hit send can save your lots of headaches and protect your reputation. Remember that email is a kind of conversation and conversations build relationships. You want to make sure that you are not coming across negatively so that people like and trust you, and consequently, like working with you.

Exclamation points are especially handy when conveying excitement or support, which is why, as an enthusiastic person, I use them a lot. When in doubt, when you are trying to shift the tone of your e-mail and are not sure how to do it, use an exclamation mark.

Just For Fun

You may remember the Seinfeld episode (season five episode 4, The Sniffing Accountant) where Elaine breaks up with someone because he is anti-exclamation mark. Lots of people feel strongly about them!

Here is an article on resting bitch face and how to fix it.

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