The 411 on Professional Email Etiquette

Everyone wants to be successful in the career. But, are you making yourself look less efficient with your language? Sure, you don’t drop the F bomb at work, and your body language is on point, but what about your email language? You’re probably thinking, my email language? Women tend to put more emotion and consideration into their emails, which often translates into more punctuation. Is punctuation actually undermining your abilities??!!

Sometimes we get tired, or overly casual, or just plain excited, and we get a little crazy with our work emails. We try to convey passion or receive approval we use exclamation points A LOT. You’d think we were gaining points in a game for how many exclamation points we are using.

Or perhaps you may even slip into smiley face territory or, worst of the worst, emoticons. And not to beat up on my sex, but I notice that women tend to toss around the fun punctuation more than men (myself included!!!!***###). Men get to the point. They use big, fat periods. And then they go out and kill a deer and eat it. But should we try to be more like men in their writing style, which can often come off as harsh?

Unfortunately, with email, the main purpose is to get to the point and to get to it quickly—and men tend to do that more : ( Girls tend to drag on and elaborate to try to show their point, instead of just getting to the point.

Perhaps the problem here is not knowing whether the conversation should really be a phone call or an email. Sometimes we would love to do everything over email, its more gratifying to say you’ve got it done and it’s on the other person now. But this shouldn’t always be the case sometimes a phone call or Skype chat is really the only way to go.

Email with your friends is one thing, but email being sent through the workplace needs to be more formal. Punctuation can not only undermine you in email, but it can convey your intentions incorrectly. You may think putting a bunch of question marks shows interest, but it could easily be interpreted as impatience. And those friendly exclamation points can quickly be translated as anger or shouting!!!!!! Same goes for caps, WOW!!! Can be exciting to you, but come off in a totally different manner to someone else.

According to a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, if you send email replies to your work colleagues regularly, your chances are no better than 50 percent of it being interpreted correctly, even when the writer believes he or she has correctly ascertained the tone of the emails. For example, sarcasm is extremely hard to convey over email. Chandler Bing would not have been funny if you had only been reading his lines.

It is also important for both genders to remember you may be emailing people of a different generation. You cannot use emoticons or LOLs when you are emailing a baby boomer. (Trust me, it took me hours to explain “TTYL” to my father. And don’t even get me started on the day that was lost to “YOLO!”)

So before you send out your next email, take these few things into consideration on how to perfect your professional email etiquette:

Why do you think you need this extra punctuation?

Before sending emails, ask yourself WHY you need to use emoticons, exclamation points, and “haha’s” in emails. Are you intimidated by the recipient? Are you unsure of the answer to their question? Are you trying to over-compensate for something? Are you trying to make them like you?

Tweet, Tweet: You want the email to be concise.

Think about work email the way you’d think of Tweeting. Imagine you are limited to 140 characters and must boil it down to ONLY what’s important. When thinking like this, emoticons, “haha’s” and !!!!!’s often add more confusion—and characters—to the message.

Are you trying to hide behind punctuation?

I love a good : ) as much as the next girl, and I do believe there are times where they can add personality. What I am NOT a fan of is using them as a band-aid or distraction from a serious email that may not be easy to write. Removing the smiley faces and “LOLs” from your emails may feel scary or too direct at first, but it’s important to get comfortable with being direct sooner, rather than later, in your career.

Here’s to you, and making your emails that much better,


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