5 Ways to Make Sure Your Email Has the Right Tone

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Let’s say you sent an email to your boss, colleague or direct report and didn’t get the response you expected. You carefully chose every word in the email. It’s happened to the best of us — but it’s hard to know what went wrong.

We rely on technology so heavily — it’s easier and more efficient than picking up the phone or arranging a formal meeting. But emails, unlike face-to-face communication, can often be misinterpreted and may give off a vibe you didn’t intend. So how do you make sure your email comes across in a professional tone, without any trace of attitude?

These five rules of thumb will improve the tone of your emails and help you get the response you want.

Start With a Feel-Good Sentence or Ice Breaker

It is always helpful to start out on a positive note, even if the purpose of the email is to gently nudge the reader or deliver bad news. If you know the person or have been in touch previously, write a personal and/or cheerful first sentence. Here are some suggested first liners:

  • I hope you are enjoying this beautiful weather.
  • I am looking forward to hearing how your race went this weekend!
  • I know you weren’t feeling well yesterday and hope your cold is better.
  • I am excited to work with you on the new marketing project!

Less Is Often More

Too much detail in an email can feel weighty. Here are a few alternatives:

  • Outline your thoughts and offer a follow-up email
  • Attach a doc with more details
  • Suggest a call to discuss details

Use Punctuation Selectively and Sparingly

What feeling are you trying to convey?

  • A simple exclamation point can change the tone to friendly and less intimidating. However, three exclamation points can be too casual.
  • All caps is a no-no. You are shouting at the reader.
  • Likewise, do emojis really belong in business emails?

Know When to Pick up the Phone or Show up in Person

Some conversations should be had by phone, or even in person.

Examples include:

  • You are asking for something (a raise, time off, etc)
  • You are pitching your new idea for a project
  • You are upset or disappointed (by negative feedback on a project, being passed over for a promotion, etc.)

Email gives you the opportunity to plan things out before sending, while a conversation requires you to think on the spot. However, emails are often read in a different voice than the one you intended. Write down your thoughts to script yourself, then pick up the phone and talk it through. It may take a little more time, but it will be well worth it.

If in Doubt, Ask a Friend to Read Your Email Draft Before Sending

It never hurts to get a second opinion. If you are in doubt about whether your email has a tone, it probably does. Exclamation point!