The Latest from the ABM Experts
April 20, 2017
13 Punctuation and Grammar Tips To Up Your Email Etiquette Game
Written by Annie McMindes
Like it or not, youre being judged. Every day, the people you work with whether its your colleagues, managers, clients, prospects or stakeholders are silently judging. Theyve each formed (or are forming) an opinion of you, and its largely based on how you communicate. Your email etiquette matters.
As business evolves through technology, the need to meet in person has become less and less important. It comes as no surprise that most of our interactions happen via email.
But the onslaught of social media has brought about a different type of prose to professional correspondence than business communications of years past. Weve started importing abbreviated language of text and tweets, gotten a tad too liberal with our use of the exclamation point and some have even used emoticons in professional emails. (Seriously, why?!)
The way you write in your email says more about you than you may realize. Its worth understanding the impact of the words you write, as how youre perceived, based on these contacts, can either build your reputation or kill it.
Here are 13 ways to perfect to your email etiquette to avoid sloppy sends:
Sure, proper sentence structure may sound overrated better suited for formal essays in freshman English. But, think about it: After someone reads our email, do we want them to focus in on the message or the way we misused (or overused) an ellipsis? Here are 13 very specific lessons focused only on your punctuation and grammar in email.
An ellipsis is totally cool to use in your email to show a pause or break in your train of thought, according to several style guides. But just because its allowable doesnt mean its always good email etiquette. Most people who use ellipses in email tend to overdo it a lot. It shouldnt replace normal punctuation. To quote the Grammar girl, Mignon Fogarty, You should not allow the sweet lure of ellipses to muddle your ability to write a complete sentence.
Parentheses are used to clarify a thought or as a side note. Periods and commas typically go on the outside of the parentheses, expect for when the parenthetical sentence stands alone. For instance: Check out the report (youll be shocked)! and Check out the report. (Youll be amazed!) Also, commas are much more likely to follow parentheses than precede them.
3. Exclamation Points
Using an exclamation point can convey excitement, but overusing them can make you look cheap. Adding exclamation points too liberally is like putting lipstick on your prose. Its cheap, fast and everyone knows it isnt real. Instead, try to use a more vivid language and tone to get your point across.
As social media grows (and character count shrinks) these little pictorial representations of feelings are playing a pretty hefty role in communication. If your brand is using them in your social media thats great! But the verdict is still out on if they meet email etiquette standards. If your brand is a little more casual, feel free to use them sparingly. Science shows no one really seems to mind. In fact, it may even strengthen their perception of you.
A colon can connect two independent sentences or statements, but should not be used as a substitute for a comma. Both the sentence leading into the colon and the one following should be capitalized in Sentence case. For instance: She got what she deserved: She really earned that raise. Note that you should never use more than one colon in a sentence, though you can tag in a semicolon and keep your Email Etiquette Master status.
Semicolons separate things. They break apart two main clauses that are closely related to each other, that could stand on their own as sentences if you wanted them to. Basically, they nix the pause between two statements without using words like and, but, nor, or yet.
Like colons, dashes can be used to introduce the next part of a sentence, although they also have other uses. But a dash is stronger and more informal than a colon. A dash interrupts the flow of a sentence and tells your reader to get ready for some important or dramatic statement. Its the Barney Wait-for-it Stinson of punctuation. A dash also brings extra or defining information into play, though its a rather dramatic marking, and should be used as such for proper email etiquette.
Theyre everywhere theyre rampant! And theyre so often wrong. Commas are like people on the subway: Just when you think you know them, they turn around and startle you with their complexity. Because they have so many different uses and those uses can differ depending on which style guide youre writing from, comma rules are tough to pin down. Conventional wisdom has (wrongly) advised that we should add commas wherever our readers should pause. But thats just bad advice. If you have a main clause something that can stand alone as a sentence put a comma after it. What comes after that comma, though, should not be able to also stand alone as its own sentence. If you want to join two independent, but related, clauses, try using a semicolon instead.
9. Acronyms & Abbreviations
OMG! LOL! Btw In our text-speak language of acronyms, weve become a touch lazy and let proper grammar fall to the wayside. As a rule for proper email etiquette, dont use acronyms when youre emailing external contacts or, say, your CEO. But, there are a number of acronyms and abbreviations that are A-Okay to use in the office. Those are: FYI, JK, EOD, EOW, ASAP, OOO.
10. Their, There, Theyre (and other homophones)
Homophones are words that sound the same, despite their meaning or spelling. The most common offenders are: their, there, theyre; your, youre; two, to, too; its, its; lets & lets; peak, peek and pique; alot, a lot and allot. Heres the difference between them:
Their: Describes something thats owned by a group
There: A place away from here.
Theyre: A contraction of the words they are.
Your: Describes something that belongs to you.
Youre: A contraction of the words you are.
To: Typically describes a destination, recipient or action
Two: A number (2).
Its: The possessive of it.
Its: A contraction of the words it is.
Lets: A contraction of the words let us.
Lets: To allow or permit
Peak: A sharp point, like the peak of a mountain.
Peek: A quick look.
Pique: To stimulate or provoke you know, like your interest.
Alot: A non-word that makes you look like an email etiquette fool.
A lot: A vast quantity.
Allot: Set a certain quantity (say, of money) aside.
11. Incomplete comparisons
One of my greatest pet peeves, incomplete comparisons drive me absolutely mad. When I see it in the wild, I immediately assume the person emailing me is incompetent. Sure, they may just have poor email etiquette, but Im judging you when I see it. Can you see whats wrong here?
Our product is bigger, faster and smarter!
Bigger, faster and smarter than what? Your last model? Other products? A competitor? If youre asserting a comparison, make sure you always clarify what youre comparing to.
12. Me & I
Though most of your email etiquette should focus on your reader therefore not necessitating the use of me or I, sometimes its simply unavoidable to mention yourself. But you should be careful how you do it. For instance:
When you get a chance, can you send the new deck to Michelle and I?
But thats wrong. As a rule of thumb, I always try removing the other person and saying the sentence to see how it sounds. Thatd be:
When you get a chance, can you send the new deck to I?
Doesnt work. Here I is the object of the sentence, and I should never be used in objects. Instead use me.
13. Referring to your brand as They
Ill admit, Im guilty of this. I make this mistake all the time. And its wrong. So I need to work on my email etiquette. But a business is not plural, so the business is not they. Its it. We dont identify our brands as he or she, so they feels right. But its inaccurate. Our brand is singular and inanimate. Its an it.