OMG, LOL!!! How to Convey Tone In Email Without Seeming Childish

How do you convey tone in email without seeming childish or girlish?  Can you ever use exclamations in emails?  Reader C wonders…

I’m hoping you can address the issue of using !’s in emails at work. As we all know, tone is hard to convey properly via email. However, whenever I am inclined to use an ! to convey a positive tone, I get the sense that it actually reads as childish or immature. I also never seem to notice men using !’s in emails, either…. I’d love to hear yours and others thoughts on this!

Outstanding question, and I can’t wait to hear what readers say.  A lot has been written about overuse of exclamations in emails — with some people even suggesting that one exclamation mark per email is a good rule to follow.  There’s even an app to help you check the tone of your email!  My best general advice is that abbreviations, multiple punctuation marks (!!!), and overly casual phrases (“amazeballs!”) have no place in professional emails.   Beyond that, I think a lot of this depends on why you want to use a positive tone.  For example:

  • If you’re telling a subordinate he or she did a good job:  They don’t care if you use exclamation marks; they’re just happy to get the praise.  I think something like, “Outstanding!” is professional and encouraging without seeming juvenile.
  • If you’re trying to sugarcoat a bad situation for a superior:  Exclamation marks aren’t going to help you here — in fact, they’ll probably hurt you.  You don’t want to be overly grave (“I am so sorry this happened!!!”), or overly breezy (“…but on the plus side no one lost a limb!!!”)… it’s a tough tone to strike in email.  Which, honestly, is why I recommend picking up the phone or dropping by your boss’s office. Not only do you not have to worry about tone, but you can better gauge your boss’s reaction, and — bonus! — there’s no paper trail that might get forwarded, misconstrued, filed away, etc.

I guess that’s my best tip — if you’re worried about the tone being misunderstood, it’s best to have the conversation orally verbally. Otherwise, trust yourself and the English language — word choice goes a long way towards, you know, communicating.  For example, writing “Great news, team: we are done with the doc review.”  doesn’t need any exclamation marks to get the point across.

Readers, what are your best tips on how to convey tone in email without seeming childish, juvenile, or girlish?  Have you received any emails where you really noticed/minded the tone?

(Pictured above: amazeballs lantern, originally uploaded to Flickr by Rakka.)


  1. Great topic. In the example used, I’d actually say that the exclamation point after praise is not necessary and may take away from the sincerity of the message. I much prefer, “You’re doing a great job.” to “Great job!” — the latter seems like a bit like grade school praise.

    I generally stick to the no more than one exclamation point rule in e-mails, and usually eliminate them altogether. When I use them, it’s usually to convey enthusiasm (E.g., Thank you! or Happy Holidays!). But of course, this is a know your audience sort of thing. If someone is big on !!! and :) and the like, I may include an exclamation point more often because I don’t want the person to misunderstand my tone in light of their own communication preferences.

    • On the “great job” bit — here’s what I’ve noticed from my line of work (I’m a litigator). My boss will typically say, “you did a nice job with your draft” or “good work on the conference call today.” Again – routine praise. Those are followed by periods. When something really huge happens – a fantastic order from a judge granting a motion I wrote, an acceptance of a settlement offer I negotiated, etc. – then they throw in the exclamation points (and sometimes more than one).

      • I’m just jealous of a litigator who gets “routine praise” as part of her job. In my office, there’s no such thing as routine praise – any praise is hard-earned and very rare.

        • midwest anon :

          That’s exactly what I was thinking – no one ever gives praise at my firm, and it’s not like there isn’t the opportunity for it.

        • Ha! Routine praise! That is almost hilarious to me! Glad I’m not the only one not getting routine praise.

      • This is exactly why I save my exclamation points for the rare times that it warrants one. The recipient will know I mean it whenever I use one.

    • My most recent pet peeve is that there is a “tilde” virus going around in emails at my firm.

      For example: Please file the 13G asap.


      ~Will do.

      ~Have a good one.



      Why????? “~” is not a real punctuation mark. It’s not.

      • I often sign off (non-professional) emails with ~Lily. I think it looks pretty, and it obviates the need for a sign-off (sincerely, best, take care, etc). I would not use it in a professional setting unless I regularly emailed back and forth with someone.

        • Elle Woods :

          Because you think it looks pretty?

          Honey. Even I don’t use a tilde. And my resume is pink and scented.

          • just Karen :

            Hey, she said it was for non-professional e-mails. I agree it’s not professional, but do whatever you want in personal e-mails .

          • Anonymous :

            Ha! Ha! Ha! Thanks, Elle.

      • That’s really weird. Where do people come up with these things?

      • Except for more formal e-mails (an oxymoron?) I usually use a tilde instead of a colon or dash in the greeting — as in, “Dear MJ ~” I never thought it was weird and have never had a comment (except from two male colleagues who mentioned it , oddly enough, on the same day or within a day or two of each other a few years ago, asking what is that called, it looks good). I’ll probably keep using it — but now I’ll be self-conscious about it.

      • Are you sure the tilde is intentional? It might be just the mail server/client translating characters weirdly.

    • Threadjack - How to Deal with Offensive Office-Wide Emails from Clueless White Male Senior Partner? :

      I work in a lawfirm of about 200 lawyers. We’ve recently had some excellent diversity training, and I’m sure that more than a handful of people are thinking about things like “micro-inequities” for the first time. Then comes the dreaded firmwide email from our most senior partner (who is a white male) congratulating an associate (young, female, African American) on several recent, outstanding accomplishments. The last line reads: “YOU GO GIRL.” Cringe.

      (He also recently sent an email congratulating a male African-American associate on a recent accomplishment, which included a similar cringe-worthy comment. This partner also sends firm-wide emails that are cringe-worthy without any racial or gender undertones — they just show that he is completely out of touch.).

      I would love to hear comments on how to address this issue. Or if I’m being overly sensitive and need to calm down. For context, I’m a white female senior associate, and I do not work with the old coot referenced above.

      • How would you address it? It sounds like he’s a bit clueless, but he has power, so no good can come of you doing anything at all.

      • I agree with Snarkster. Dealing with this is the responsibility of one of the other 198 attorneys in your firm. As a senior associate who doesn’t work with this partner, you gain nothing by getting involved. The exception might be if you were the associate to whom the cringe-worthy sexist comment was directed. If that happened, I would talk privately to a trusted, more senior, and sympathetic mentor within the firm for advice.

        If no one in your firm takes any steps to correct this problem, and you see it recurring over time, you might reconsider whether you want to continue working there and become a partner of this old coot. If you choose to stay, someday it could become your problem.

        • I dont have a great answer, but I would love to hear more on this topic. If we all just keep ignoring these kinds of comments nothing will change. So, any thoughts on how we can disrupt oppresive language?

  2. I like this topic.

    A while back, I noticed that I was often ending emails with “Thanks!” When I saw several in a row, I realized how insincere and cheesy it looked. So one test I use in determining whether to put in an exclamation point is whether the sentiment I’m conveying is routine or is it out of the ordinary. If it’s something that you write and send regularly, don’t use the exclamation point. It’s best saved it for special occasions.

    • I also recently noticed that I was signing of with, “Thank you,” when I wasn’t really thanking the person for anything. I stopped doing it and now the email just ends where it ends.

    • This. The first partner I worked for had a hard-and-fast rule of never, ever “thanking” the client. They hired us; they should be thanking us. I’ve since relaxed this a bit with in-house staff (e.g., paralegals) for little favors. But it’s a good rule of thumb.

      Now that I’m training people, I see how right he was. It just doesn’t look good or professional. I have one mentee who will write “thank you” five different ways in one email to acknowledge an assignment. It’s driving me crazy.

    • I follow the office standard, which is a routine “Thanks” at the end of every email. Many people even have it embedded in their email signatures. I felt that being the only person not attaching a “Thanks” with me emails made me seem overly curt or demanding.

  3. An email that said my work was “amazeballs!” would be. . . amazeballs. Lol!

  4. new york associate :

    Following up on the hair product discussion from earlier:

    Any suggestions for shampoo and conditioner for those of us with very fine hair? I have lots of fine hair that needs to be washed every day. I’m looking for something that will help build volume and create shine without weighing my hair down. (I tend to have hair that is dry on the first day and an oil slick by day 2.) Any tips?

    • Your hair sounds exactly like mine. I’m on a quest for hair products too. I just started using Pureology hydrate shampoo and matching conditioner (the one for fine hair) and I’m pleased so far. My hair seems shinier and healthier looking somehow. But I’m still getting over the sticker shock! It better work miracles if I’m going to buy it again. Any other suggestions for hair products? My hair is fine and frizzy, tends to be dry at the ends and oily at the roots. Lots of flyaways on day 1, but really greasy at the scalp by day 2. I need some sort of leave-in conditioner or frizz-control cream, but so far anything that’s effective is also greasy-making.

      • Marie Claire had a hair product roundup a couple months ago and for fine hair recommended Garnier Volume Boost shampoo + Pantene Pro-V Aqua Light conditioner. It made the point that fine hair doesn’t need moisture, and most moisturizing shampoos just weigh it down further. So, I just started trying this combination, and my hair does seem shinier and easy to take care of.

      • I have ultra fine hair. I use Aveda shampoo (blue Malva as I’m blond) and… I skip the conditioner. I’ve found that it was the secret culprit of my greasy, dingy hair. Instead, I just shampoo & follow with a light leave in (again Aveda: daily hair repair). When my hair was really rough, I used EverStrong overnight repair from l’oreal. Deep condition with oils on weekends. My hair has been great since.

        • Thanks for this. I’ve always used mositurizing shampoo/conditioner in hopes of banishing the flyaways. Interesting. I’d never thought about moisturizing products weighing my hair down further. Will try skipping conditioner or using something lighter.

        • financialfashionista :

          +1 on skipping conditioner. I have very fine hair, and it’s also pretty thin. I started only conditioning my hair once per week, and only the ends. Ever since I started doing that, I’ve been able to get away with washing only every other day unless absolutely necessary.

          If my hair starts to get really “rough” I just use my regular conditioner all over and leave it in for a couple of minutes then rinse. Seems to do the trick.

        • Another one for fine hair and no conditioner.. I’m using Klorane’s oatmeal shampoo and no need for any conditioner.

        • I have the same problem: fine hair that is dry the first day and greasy the second. What helped was a generic moisturizing shampoo and conditioner, then washing every other day. To combat the greasiness I use a dry shampoo on non-wash days. It’s subjective, but my hair seems healthier without as much washing and the dry shampoo really cuts down the shower/styling time.

    • I have fine hair also, and I like the Pantene Volume shampoo and conditioner.

    • Have you tried really mild shampoos for babies/kids? They usually leave my hair feeling very light and clean. I have fine hair too, but not the same issue with oilyness, and I use the TRESemmé shampoo and am happy with it.

    • I have hair like yours and like Bumble & Bumble Thickening shampoo and conditioner. I’m not sure it actually “thickens” anything, but it gives me more volume and texture. It also smells nice.

    • Tresemme’s 24 Hour Body line is great. I just started using it, and I was really impressed with the results.

    • I don’t use a conditioner, even on my ends, unless my hair is that dry. I just use shampoo. Then, if I need it, I’ll add the Pantene Split End Repair creme for fine hair — just a pea-sized drop, emulsify it a little in my hands, and run it through my hair. Then, I’ll brush my hair again. I know it’s for split ends, but it is super light weight and works all over the hair, just as long as you’re not using a lot.

      You could also try not using conditioner and using a moisturizing shampoo.

      • anon in-house :

        I would not recommend any of the above products (Pantene, Tresemme, Garnier, etc.) as they all contains sulfates. I’ve been cleaning up all of my cosmetics and haircare products into natural lines (for hair, Organix Shampoos) and notice an improvement.

    • I like Paul Mitchell with tea tree oil. It seems to be helping ward off split ends and make my hair less oily.

    • I really like EO Products rosemary & mint volumizing conditioner and shampoo for my fine hair. Noticed a real difference after I started using it. Sulfate-free, paraben-free, etc. Another brand that I like very much is called Pure & Basic. Their volumizing cool peppermint shampoo is great.

  5. This may be obvious, but don’t use exclamation points for criticism. “This draft has a number of substantive errors,” period, is just fine. Likewise, “you needed to check with me before sending this out.” Colleagues don’t need to yell at each other on screen any more than they need to in person. And I will add that if you want someone shaking in their boots, the period has it every time because it shows you’re not emotional and aren’t going to budge.

    I am guilty of “Thanks!” as a signoff–just thought it was warm, especially if someone has done something especially helpful. I generally use the exclamation point very sparingly, and no emoticons, but as AIMS said I do tend to adjust based on what the other person is doing.

    Finally, I’ve seen plenty of LOLs and !s and :)s in senior men’s emails. As with many other things, I don’t think they need to worry about it as much in terms of perceived competence and seriousness.

    • Alanna of Trebond :

      So funny that you said this–the partner I work for just sent out one email (to the client, no less) that said “My bad” and another last week that had some smiley faces.

      I wouldn’t say my bad (my emails to the client are much more formal), but I have relaxed on using emoticons and exclamation points because I think it helps convey tone in emails (especially internal ones).

    • I try to be professional in all of my e-mails to my cleint’s. Unfortunately, I have to send alot of e-mail’s on my iphone, which does NOT help me with adresses and spelling, so I wind up makeing a few mistake’s but NOT critical, the manageing partner says.

      The manageing partner alway’s want’s to get the story from me verbaly, so we talk alot rather then write emails. That works, he say’s in a large firm but not here, where I can walk into the manageing partner’s office at any time, even like today, when he just got back and was buffeing his head with his dirty hankercheef! FOOEY!

      Frank told the manageing partner about Gonzalo and the manageing partner said we would NEVER go back there. He also told me not to talk to him, and if I picked up the phone and it was Gonzalo calleing from some body’s cell, to tell him that we are recordeing the line and that we would be talking to the manageing partner’s cousin, who is an NYPD detective! Yay!

      The manageing partner say’s we do NOT want him to loose his job, b/c his sexueal activity with me ocurred off the job and not on restrunt property, but he will NOT hesitate to call his cousin and they know what to do, the manageing partner says. I am very lucky the manageing partner know’s peeople important. I do not think the WC judge who I am freindly with could help to much here.

      Anyway, the manageing partner said it is going to cost him $37,500 to get the pool house fixed up, so this pretty much take’s away much chance for the new 53 foot BOAT unless the pool house is covered under his policy. I have to look at his policy b/f he calls the insurance company to see if their are any LOOP HOLE’S we can exploit! YAY!

      Does anyone in the hive know anything about prop-erty INSURANCE?

      He is goieing to go home tonight and find the policy and I have to look at it over the WEEKEND. FOOEY!

      • 1) WHY are there so many superfluous E’s in your words? 2) What in the WORLD are you even talking about here? and 3) “FOOEY”? Really?

      • Anonymous :

        He probably wants to get the story from you verbally because you have horrendous spelling and grammatical tendencies.

      • anonymous 2 :

        It’s hard to believe you write intelligent emails when your posts here are sooooo painful to read.

    • Totall agree on the senior men. Not sure what is up with that. But I will say that while they may not need to worry about it as much, I do tend to judge them for it. I had a boss once that signed emails with “thx” and wrote things like “k, c u l8r” and I totally thought less of him for not being able to just spell things.

  6. anonforthis :

    I recently received an email that started out with: “OMG I am SOOOOOO sorry!!!!! I totally forgot about this!!!!” This was someone new to our company and it did not look good (nor did it look good that she forgot about said thing).

  7. Blue Moon :

    This is actually something I often struggle with, since my job involves interacting with clients/corporate co-workers, as well as non-profit volunteers. I usually err on the side of professional (no !, emoticons, “thanks!” etc.), but occasionally I worry that it can seem “cold” to volunteers.

    Any thoughts?

    • I think it’s all about who you’re speaking with. I write very formally to clients and senior coworkers. On the other hand when I’m addressing vendors or other I may be giving direction to, I try to be a bit warmer with an exclamation mark or a “thanks!”

  8. Diana Barry :

    I always sign off with “Best” in emails to clients/outside people. With my boss, I use “Thanks” since I am often asking a question. My boss is very, very formal but warm at the same time, so will often use a phrase like “Many thanks, as always” when giving an assignment to me (via memo/email).

    I don’t use emoticons, multiple exclamation marks, or abbreviations like LOL, in work emails, except if I am emailing one of my friends or my DH from my work account.

    • I use best too but I hate it. Best what! best wishes? In my head I whenever I use it to opposing counse I say “I’m de best” like the baby dinsosaur in that old show said “I’m de baby”

    • I’ve noticed IT people use “Cheers,” a lot.

      • a passion for fashion :

        totally, but this is way, way to doooshy to use

        • I reserve ‘Cheers’ for people I’m fairly close to. For everyone else it’s Sincerely, Regards or Best Regards, depending on how formal we’re being.

    • My friend once signed off with best, but misspelled it as “beast,” which I thought was hilarious and awesome.

  9. I routinely will end an email to a colleague with “Thanks!”. To me it just seems warmer, and a “Thanks.” seems kind of cold and overly-professional. I probably wouldn’t do it that way to someone I had never met or someone who was waaay senior to me, but to a partner that I know or a fellow associate, I would have no problem with it. Also, on the compliments, I prefer (as the one giving or getting the compliment) to say “Great job!”. It just seems “nicer” or something. Now I wonder if maybe I’m coming across as too young though (I’m 25, first year out of law school).

    • I wholeheartedly agree with the “Thanks!” vs. “Thanks.” The period makes it seem somehwhat harsh/cold. Otherwise though, I try not to use exclamation points. And if possible, I include my thanks at the end… i.e.:



    • I agree that “Thanks.” can come across as harsh. A non-exclamation-point phrase that I picked up from a client is “Thanks, [Jane].” To me, that comes across as serious but sincere.

  10. Can I have a Hive hug? A few weeks ago a leader came to me and said that he really wanted me for this job which would be a great opportunity for me, but I would never have applied for if not prompted. So I applied and interviewed, all with winks and nudges along the way. And then he comes in today and tell me that they picked someone else. Which I would totally be fine with if he hadn’t specifically told me he wanted me! So I probably dodged a bullet given how the whole thing went, but I’m just kind of stung and embarrassed, especially because a lot of people knew about it, given how open he was about wanting me. Barf.

    • ::hugs:: sorry to hear this. I had something similar happen once and know what you mean about feeling a little embarrassed as well as disappointed after getting hopes up. I hope you find something even better.

    • Hugs. Been there, learned my lesson to keep these things close.

    • Horrible! Here is a hug for you. It sounds like you have the right attitude–you do not want a job where this kind of [email protected] is acceptable. But gah, to feel publicly humiliated? That said, I am sure your friends will have nothing but sympathy for you. You may feel humiliated, but they see it as you being screwed over.

    • Don’t be embarassed. Now lots of people in your organization know this leader thinks you’re great. The other candidate just happened to be better for this particular job.

    • So sorry that happened to you! This happened to me several years back, and I agree, it was a mix of humiliated and angry. And when it came down to why I wasn’t hired, it wasn’t anything they didn’t already know before they came and sought me out. It was almost like they wanted to say they got a good candidate pool and then hire the “good ol’ boy” out of a better pool that looked competitive. So bizarre.

      If its any consolation, it was indeed a blessing in disguise that it didn’t work out. Everything happens for a reason.

    • I’ve been there before and it sucks. I’m sorry and sending you hugs and a stiff drink of your choosing.

    • Bah. That happened to me once. It sucks. However, I got a much better opportunity later on, which I wouldn’t have if I’d gotten that gig, so in the end it was for the best. May it be so for you as well.

  11. long time lurker :

    From my law prospective, I feel there is an overuse of email generally. If I have to have a conversation where parts of how the discussion will go is dependent on “reading” someone, I do it in person or on the phone. MANY conversations fall into this category, i.e. a junior associate who is not exactly sure about an assignment…can read the partner’s reactions to certain questions and adjust following questions and behavior accordingly. A direct email setting a final position in negotiations has its uses, but usually you can accomplish more with a phone call (if your opposing counsel is at all reasonable, which of course is not always the case).

    Also it goes without saying don’t put anything in an email that you don’t want to be “out”. Can’t think of how many times stupid joking emails have ended up being star exhibits in litigation (I’m looking at you, financial industry). Not to mention embarrassing personal things that pop up when we download hard drives.

    • THIS! Email is taking over. I was offered a job (by email) Monday of last week. I picked up the phone and called the boss to negotiate. He told me he needed some time to think about what I was proposing and then responded in email. We have been negotiating the terms of the job (by email) for the past week and a half. Can we drag it out any longer? I blame email.

    • I think I can safely say that this lesson has now been learnt by the financial industry … at least until the top of the next cycle when we will all promptly forget useful history again.

      On the tendency to over-rely on email, I’ve found pretty much everyone coming up the senior ranks has had to unlearn their aversion to face time and phone calls, myself included.

      • WorkingMom :

        I have a love/hate relationship with email. I hate email because clients now feel that if they can send an email any time of day… I should respond right away. Regardless of the request, time of day, whether it’s a national holiday or a Sunday morning, etc. The general nature of email being so instant is a thorn in my side.

        However, at my office my VP has drilled into me to always send an email to document essentially everything. I cannot tell you how many times in my earlier years at this company I have been burned by a long conversation with a client on the phone reviewing a policy, pricing, customization, etc. Then later the client “forgets” about that 45 minute conversation and wants a service for free, or plays dumb about a policy, etc. So now – even after a conversation like that, I always send a follow up email to say, “Hi Jane, just to recap our conversation, we agreed on… etc.”

        I often will get emails from brokers or clients with super-casual writing which always shocks me. I had a broker once send me emails in text-speak, acronyms and all!

  12. I think the use of exclamation points completely depends on the purpose of the email. I’m an associate at a law firm, and I only use !’s when I’m having a more informal conversation. I try to write emails the way that I speak. I try to imagine how the conversation would go orally (not verbally, sorry, a pet peeve of mine). For example:

    “Hi Karen,
    Sorry to bother you so early today, but I need some help getting XXXX documents out. I should have put it on your radar yesterday, but I made a mistake and forgot. Please forgive me! If you have any time this morning to help, please let me know.”

    I also would use it in this situation:

    “Hi Karen,

    Thanks for all your help yesterday! Again, I can’t stress enough how much I appreciate your last-minute assistance.”

    But, to be fair, I am a very animated person when I speak, so I think that the people who know me around the office can piece together what I mean with my exclamation points.

    Also, I NEVER use them when I communicate with clients.

    • Diana Barry :

      Question – to whom would your first email be addressed? It seems too apologetic if addressed to someone whose job it is to help you (eg paralegal, assistant).

      • Agree- letters to servents should simply state what needs to be done, no human apologies necessary for your own mistake. They should have to expect to drop everything the moment you need them.

      • As one of those people whose job is to be helpful, I always really appreciate not being taken for granted. My time is valuable. It’s not billed at the same rate, sure, but that doesn’t mean I should just have to drop things and rush on something that someone else forgot with no apology.

        • I completely agree. I am a lawyer, but will apologize to my secretary when something I did or forgot to do has made her job harder. Of course she is expected to help me as part of her job, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t recognize my own mistakes. Sometimes this just makes the working relationship easier, which in the end is a benefit to me and my clients.

      • That specific example was targeted toward a paralegal. I’m a new attorney, under 30, in an office that places a very strong emphasis on respect for staff. Many of our paralegals and legal assistants (our nomenclature for secretary) have many many years of experience and know much more than I do about the job that I’m supposed to be doing. I figure that I should err on the side of treating them more like a peer rather than an assistant.

        It’s an interesting question though: how to handle interactions with staff when you’re a new attorney (especially when you’re a woman). I would appreciate any responses, because I’m definitely working on my approach.

        • Molly, I completely agree with your philosophy regarding being considerate to staff regarding their schedules and owning up when you do something that makes that staff member’s day more difficult than it should be.

          That said – be careful about apologizing by email. The paralegal may forward that apologetic email to a partner and say “Sorry I can’t get to your project today — Molly’s just given me another last-minute assignment.” The apology, on paper, really can make you look worse. Especially if that staff member has a few of these apologetic emails saved up.

          Unfortunately, I speak from experience. As a second- and third-year associate I worked on a very significant matter with a senior paralegal who had much more “equity” built up in the firm than I did. I apologized for slip-ups a few times by email. She sent those emails to her attorney friend on the Associate Committee and into my file they went.

          • Thanks! That’s very helpful. I’ve noticed that I’m often too apologetic in my interactions. For instance, instead of saying “excuse me” when I run into someone in the hall, I say “I’m sorry”. It’s a dumb habit that I’m trying to break.

          • I’m pretty polite and am in an environment where you thank support staff profusely for doing things for you, and I think you have too many sorries/my faults in there. If you must apologize, say it once, but I think it’s an interesting point about being careful about what you apologize for in email. You could always email the assignment and then call/stop by to say your apology and how much you appreciate the last minute help.

    • I agree with your exclamation mark usage.

      I write my email, then read it over in my head, then add exclamation marks as necessary. Sometimes it requires shifting around sentences. But emails can seem really cold if there are no exclamation marks.

  13. Tone in emails is something I work on and try to think about a lot. I have a lot of vendor relationships that are essentially built over email, with occasional phone calls and even more occasional in person meetings. I try and strike a professional but personal tone most of the time.

    I really hate short curt emails. My MIL always sends short, curt emails and I used to think she was mad at me all the time, when it’s really just her “online” demeanor (she’s the same way on facebook). On the way other hand of the spectrum, my mom sends long and highly descriptive emails (although these are all family/personal) that are quite ridiculous.

    My personal “rules”:

    One exclamation point per email
    For new emails that aren’t a reply, use the person’s name and some sort of salutation like “good morning”. The “good morning” typically gets the exclamation mark, but that might be annoying and something I might start adjusting.
    No one word answers – use full sentences, as long as I’m sitting at a computer. Blackberry emails get some leeway.
    No long paragraphs
    Georgia normal size font :)
    No “thanks” when I’m requesting something – they haven’t done anything yet.
    No passive language – state directly and clearly
    Sign “Regards,” then my signature
    Signature is only my name, title, company, cell number, office number, and business website. No quotes, logos, pictures, etc.

    Something I struggle with with people who I’m familiar with is having an urge to occasionally add a :).

    Somewhat related, I read somewhere that the Obama campaign did a lot of tracking of their fundraiser emails, and found that emails that had ugly formats (weird highlights, underlined words) were more effective than the pretty formats.

    • Meg Powers :

      I like the way you structure your emails. I send emails to clients all the time and I might steal some of it.

      I struggle with short, curt emails, too. I get them from my manager (probably because she’s very busy and she needs to send the email and move on to something else) but it always takes me a few minutes to realize that she’s not actually mad at me.

  14. Blogreader :

    “It’s best to have the conversation ORALLY [in person ] .”

    • Yes! “Verbal” means “in words,” as in, spoken OR written. I understand that the common usage has evolved on this, but I am totally with you on this Blogreader!

    • I will never forget the day when the partner I was working for walked into my office and corrected me on that very point. Never made that mistake again, and now always notice it when others do.

  15. Salutations :

    On a somewhat related note, what is the best opening to use in an e-mail? Many of the people I work with use “Hi John,” even with clients, but would it be better to just start out with “John,”…? Taking out the “hi” seems like a much harsher tone to me, but is it more professional?

    • I agree with just using “John,…” instead of “Hi John,..” I always think “Hi John” should have a period at the end, instead of a comma. I have no idea if that is proper or not.

  16. Lol, looks like someone is already solving this problem with a new punctuation mark:

  17. To me, exclamation points in work emails look juvenile. It reminds me of notes passed in class in junior high. I never use them unless I am responding “Congratulations!” to someone announcing the birth of their son or daughter to the office by email.

  18. I’m in legal hiring, and was setting up an interview recently, and the candidate used one or two explanation points in her emails to me. I thought that was kind of odd — in my work world, I almost never see explanation points in emails. I didn’t hold it against her, but it was unusual and unnecessarily distracting. It seemed like the kind of thing career services should be telling students when they begin applying for jobs, especially in this competitive market.

  19. I recently hired a wedding photographer who is great and very nice, but WAY overdoes it with the smiley faces and exclamation points.

    And yes, her contract is in Comic Sans.

  20. Does anyone else have a problem with ellipses? I have multiple coworkers who will end every email with…

    I’m not sure what tone they are going for, but I read this as sarcastic, like they are saying “Thanks…” but thinking “Thanks…for nothing.”

  21. JessiJames :

    Ugh, wishing I could get away with forwarding this to my supervisor. Her emails are peppered not only with exclamation marks, but crazy fonts, bright colors (lemon yellow on white bg = not exactly readable…), changes in size, and actual clip art. Yes, the ugly stock pictures you find in MS Word’s “Insert Clip Art…” option go in professional emails – on one notable set of occasions, these were region-wide sales-tracking email chains – and they’re chock-full of ugly clip art, weird formatting, and emoticons.

    Myself, I am guilty of using the “~Jessica” sign-off in work email, but only to my banker, whom I have to email several times a day to keep her informed of customer offers/activity and who is one of my best friends at work. But I do try to keep the rest of the message professional in tone – proper grammar/spelling/caps, no text-speak EVER, 12-point TNR in black.

    On a slightly related note…my managers like to communicate with us peons via text message. One of them (of course, the lady above with the clip art) uses heavy, heavy text-speak – “can u come in early 2moro?? som1 called off. thx in adv!!!!” kind of thing. I respond using proper English (teacher’s child here, I can hear my mom scolding me if I try to use anything else) but I wonder if it makes me come off as cold or uptight.

  22. Divaliscious11 :

    Guilty of using amazeballs in a work email. But it absolutely was. We got regulatory feedback in 24 hours when we were expecting 24 days, and in our favor…..

  23. Not to be glib, but is there anyone else here who doesn’t particularly care? I find the way that I write emails at work says a lot about my personality, as do emails from other people. I don’t think anything less of someone if they sign off with a “Thanks!”; or if it’s been a particularly long and frustrating day and a colleague and I are talking about it via email, I wouldn’t hesitate to add a little :) to cheer things up a bit. I’d rather that than be a complete robot in emails. As long as the actual content of the email gets through, that’s fine by me. Of COURSE tone matters, but if you’re writing an email that you think might be misconstrued, it’s likely better to have that conversation in person.

    • Agreed. I used to be very careful not to use informal words, !, :), etc. but then I heard a conversation among male partners talking about how a female partner was always in a bad mood, and one of the partners said, “I know, she never even says “hi” or “thanks!” in her emails.” The other partners agreed and commented further on her “angry” and “rude” writing style (I thought her emails were just formal). Childish of the partners, I know, but I realized that while using these expression marks and informal words may make you sound girly, not using them can make you sound like the stereotypical b*tch. I think email writing has evolved to mirror the phone more than the letter – they should match your usual oral tone and personality in a professional setting, rather than being overly formal and structured.

  24. What I might’ve thought sounded “harsh” in my early 20’s, now (at 40) just sounds professional – and (while you should certainly consider, and revise tone based upon, the intended recipient), consider whether you’re most concerned with the impression you leave on your colleagues in their 20’s, or those in their 40’s(+). Unless you’re completely without tact (which I doubt is the case for anyone taking the time to read this thread), no true professional is going to be “offended” by a direct-but-professionally-pleasant e-mail that simply states your position, and asks for what you need, without exclamation points, emoticons, or other needless flourish. Example (put together in the moment and certainly worthy of feedback itself, but generally illustrative of my take, if nothing else):

    [Client/opposing counsel’s name, or “All,” if to a working group – {NO “DEAR”!}],

    Attached for your review is [a draft of the APA discussed on our call this morning]. Please consider the following, and let us know your comments:

    1. We believe the basket amount to reflect market[, based upon XYZ]. We would be glad to consider further discussion regarding [ABC].

    2. We appreciate your postion with respect to [X], and have made your requested revision with respect to [Section 1.2].

    3. [Etc.]

    Again, please let me know your thoughts – I’m available to discuss at your convenience. Thanks.



    • To follow on my post above: while that was obviously focused on client or opposing counsel correspondence, I think similar e-mails to partners and colleagues are entirely appropriate, and that there is very rarely (if ever) any need to express a professional thought using exclamation points. That said, if you’ve found yourself to generally be good judge of character and of your own interpersonal interactions, and you feel you’ve developed a working relationship with a partner or colleague such that the occasional exclamation point or smiley face seems to makes sense (for lack of a better phrase) in the context of previous/ongoing exchanges, it can be a positive (basically, a ‘bonding’) thing – but only when used judiciously, and when you’re pretty darn sure they ‘get it.’ In sum: if trusting your judgment has worked well for you in the past, play on. If not, proceed with (e-mail) caution until you get the lay of the land.

  25. I am a frequent user of exclamations in my normal life, but I make a HUGEEE effort to keep them out of the workplace. I will never use them when speaking to someone above me, and only once in a while will I use them when talking to a subordinate (Thanks for your help!). But I think they make you sound immature, and as a young, female law associate, I don’t need any strikes against me.

  26. Meg Powers :

    I’ve found this thread super interesting and helpful – I always wonder about the structure, tone, etc. of my external emails and finding the balance between being informal and too formal.

    I’m also trying to get over my fear of signing an email with anything other than “Thank you”.

  27. Thank you all for this conversation. My office uses email incessantly, and the staff seems to use exclamation points as periods were previously used. When responding, it can be very easy to get caught up in that tone, but it is just too cutesy for a female attorney.

    On another note, how do you all feel about young, female attorneys bringing muffins/baked goods into the office? A brand new, fresh-0ut-of-school associate did that recently. Not a good idea, in my opinion.

  28. Great post and comments. I struggle with tone and substance in emails on a daily basis. My clients’ employees tend to be very busy so the emails MUST be short. They also tend to be overworked and tired – I have learned the hard way that ambiguous tone WILL be taken the wrong way. Therefore, I try for short, succinct, and overly courteous. I have had good results with frankly overusing “Thanks!” at the end of emails. Even emails where it doesn’t necessarily make sense. It comes across as energetic punchy and to the point. I think the tone you take depends on who you are communicating with, and it does not necessarily mean you need to mirror their tone. My clients’ emails tend to be short and abrupt. I experimented with a similar style and found that it made me appear cold and too busy to take care of the clients needs.

  29. This post is great. I realy love it!

  30. In regards to the apology issue in emails, I agree that you have to be careful when apologizing. This is especially true as a young woman and in email. I make a point to never apologize unless I actually made a mistake I feel could or should have been prevented , like misreading something or not delivering when promised. Otherwise, when responding to things like a last minute request, I say “I wish I could today, but unfortunately my supervisor (or xxxx) needs xxxxx as priority one. I’ll try to get this for you by the end of the week. ” I see way too many people apologizing way to often over nothing all the time. Excuse me, I wish, and unfortunately are all good replacements. In reality– I’m not sorry biatch, you shouldn’t have asked me last minute but I save that personality for outside of work. Thanks. Best! ~ Ashley :)

  31. It’s important to remember that communication is a two-way street. As I learn about people’s preferences, I tailor my responses. In an attempt to compensate for my natural bubbliness , I’ve recently learned that my emails have sometimes become more terse than I intended. Last week I was praised by a superior for crafting an email that is apparently warmer than usual, and he pointed out that I can be just a tad short sometimes.

    My job involves bothering people for deliverables on a regular basis and it’s quite easy to be seen as a robotic nag if you don’t include a little ray of warmth once in a while. So I’m making a more concerted effort to include a “Thanks!” or “Have a great weekend!” once in a while. The people I correspond with regularly go the extra mile for me, so the least I can do is show a little bit of interest in them as human beings.

    That said, I always follow the salutation/body/closing format, avoid most slang and contractions, consistently use one font type/colour, and my signature line is very minimalist. If the rest of your email “persona” is quite professional and concise, throwing in a smiley face or exclamation mark once in a while isn’t going to sink the ship and may actually go a bit farther than we realize.

  32. midwest mom :

    My problem is when I answer email on my phone. If I just texted my teenage daughter then I answer an email I have to watch my tone and !!. I think answering email on my phone is more casual so I am careful to re-evaluate before sending.

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