I think it was Shakespeare that said “An email by any other punctuation would not be as obnoxious.”

No wait, that was me, just now.  Mark Bradford.

The death of email was greatly exaggerated and predicted many years ago.  However, eMail is still with us, and even for those of you who like to communicate via a text overlay on a snapchat of your cat being cute, this still applies.

You’re a nice, professional person

You’re a nice, professional person, right?  With others, in person you communicate well.  You don’t raise your voice unexpectedly, you don’t make quick frightening movements like a cartoonish weasel.   You don’t fold your arms after making a statement, like a 7 year old that isn’t going to take no for an answer, right?  Nor do you run into a room, shout and then run away, leaving only a cloud of smoke vaguely in the shape of you standing there.  And, of course you don’t grunt like Tarzan while pointing at things you want.

But you might be coming across that way in eMails.

Punctuation, caps and other powerful features of the written word you’re abusing

When I say ‘abuse’ I mean over useing, using when not necessary, or ignoring completely.


Punctuation is a powerful thing – it separates thoughts, it enhances points you make and it even slows down the reader so they better absorb what you are saying.

If you are asking a question, then one and only one question mark will do.  Regardless of how carefully you phrase a question, tacking on multiple question marks changes it dramatically, literally.

Multiple question marks implore you to please, for the love of God, answer.  Or, they say that you desperately need to have this question answered – your TPS report request turns into asking them to share their secret cure for cancer.  Or, they say that you are so confused that there is no telling what is going to come next.  Maybe you’ll jump, maybe you’ll strike and drop that match onto that long line of gasoline leading to the kegs of powder.

Seeing those question marks creates a visceral reaction – like hearing a baby cry or an engine grind that has no oil in it.  Yes, you get a faster reaction, but at the expense of the sanity of the reader.  You also create a perception of neediness, of having no way to deal with the unknown.  If you send this to a client, they will soon look elsewhere.  If you send this to a vendor, you’ll move down the list when it comes to taking you seriously as they will judge you as someone who overreacts.  Response times will increase.  Just from a bunch of extra question marks????????????

Sorry, what?  I sort of ignored that last question.

And the other punctuation?  The same applies to ending a sentence in an ellipse, or using an exclamation point.  Ending a sentence in an ellipse sets the reader up for suspense.  It also suggests a bit of arrogance as if they should know better.   I see you don’t know what I am talking about…

Yes I do.  How offensive.

Speaking of offensive CAPS IS YELLING.  There are programmers out there that have to have Caps Lock on sometimes.  They get a minor pass, switching from their console to a message.  But CAPS HAS ALWAYS BEEN YELLING.  And just like there’s no crying in baseball, there’s no yelling in business.  If you want to highlight a word, underline or bold works great.  If I say that the reason the projector is not working is not the power but the bulb, I am being clear.  If I say that the reason projector is not working is not the power but the BULB, you hear “you moron!” regardless of it I type it.

Tarzan like Jane, or maybe you’re having a stroke?

Equally confusing are messages in which the sender mistakes a comma for a period, especially when combined with the desire to end every sentence with an ellipse of commas,,,   Wait, is that a super pause?  Do I get a cup of coffee before I read the rest?

How about three word sentences without punctuation.  It forces you to ask again, or try to figure it out while scratching your head, all the while questioning the intelligence of the sender.   that good right



In summary all these incorrect uses of language, communication and punctuation can be very detrimental to not only the communication itself, but to your actual relationships – business or otherwise.

“They’re just really bad in email” is like saying “Does a good job with our copiers but has a bad odor.”

You don’t want that.  And, there’s no reason to add any additional stress, anger or negative vibes to your communication.

What do I do, Mr. Strunk?

Um, no, it’s Bradford.  It’s not about sucking it up and being overly sensitive.  It’s about using an advanced tool we call the written language –  in my case English – to communicate with others.  You don’t put industrial spotlights in your house where lamps will do, you don’t make speaker phone calls in a library, you don’t use half of the bottle of cologne each day and you don’t use fifteen exclamation points instead of a period!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wow, that was over the top, no?  🙂

I’m not suggesting that everyone should have a PhD in English Language and Literature.  I’m suggesting to have care in which you use this amazing tool that can communicate and manipulate – intentionally or subconsciously.  Try to answer questions completely, be succinct and be aware of what effort the reader has to use to absorb your message.

I hope I did that.  And, if not you can send me an email filled with caps and 107 exclamation points.  Or you can write your concerns on a hundred dollar bill and send them to…

About Mark Bradford

Mark Bradford developed a system to achieve goals, manage your energy and understand and strengthen your path - it's Alchemy For Life. He writes, coaches and speaks on the subject. For more information, tips and tricks, like Mark Bradford on Facebook, follow Mark Bradford on Twitter. Schedule a 15 minute chat. Articles are posted regularly on AlchemyFor.Life, and LinkedIn.