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Are You Undermining Yourself With Punctuation?


Take look at the last ten work emails you wrote. How many exclamation marks do you see? How many smiley-faces, emoticons, LOLs? Be honest: Is there a YOLO floating around in there?

I won’t judge. (OK, just a little, but only for the YOLO.) Over-punctuation is a hazard most office workers face, and as Meredith Lepore at the Levo League points out, it especially plagues women, who use all those extra !!! and 🙂 to make themselves look friendlier, to compensate for bad news, and to just plain make people like them.

The problem is that all this over-punctuation tends to make communications look less like professional correspondence and more like chatter in the comments section. For the sender, this translates into less professional respect from colleagues and possibly a lot of miscommunication.

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Lepore cites an article in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology which says that up to 50 percent of our emails are misunderstood by their recipients — and extra exclamation points, which can be read as sarcasm as easily as enthusiasm, don’t necessarily help.

Then there’s the issue of intergenerational communication. I’m a Gen X-er, and know better than to try to communicate with my parents using any acronyms that aren’t SCUBA or radar. On the other hand, I need a decoder ring to understand what anyone under the age of 25 is saying at any given time. (Gen Y readers: decoder rings used to come in cereal boxes, back when there was a prize besides high-fructose corn syrup.)

Ultimately, the goal of email is to express the point of the message as clearly and concisely as possible, leaving as little up to interpretation as you possibly can. Not sure your intentions are coming through? Business etiquette expert Jorie Scholnik has one piece of advice for Lepore’s readers that I honestly haven’t thought of in years: try using the phone.

Tell Us What You Think

We want to hear from you! Does email punctuation affect how you think of the sender? Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter, using the hashtag #MakeItHappen.

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(Photo Credit: Dancing Tuna/Flickr)

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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