More and more I find myself using exclamation points, ellipses (“…”), emoticons, and even the occasional interrobang (“‽”) in email communication with clients, colleagues, and friends. My eighth grade English teacher would probably recoil in horror.
But I think I have a good reason for doing this. Email is a terribly unsubtle means of communication. A one-liner email —for instance, “Good job.”—has no contextual clues such as tone of voice and facial expression to judge the intended meaning. ((I once received the following email from a client: “T”. I’m pretty sure he meant “Thank You” but I’m still not quite sure why he thought this was a good way to express that.)) Does the person think I did a good job or are they unimpressed but not motivated enough to give real feedback?
However crude, these “tacky” writing techniques embed additional information about how the author intends the recipient to interpret their message. “Good job!” is much less ambiguous. So is, “Hooray for tax season… :(”
Now of course, emoticons can go wrong and you still have to consider your audience, but emotion is such a critical piece of communication that gets stripped out of an email unless you work hard to include it. It may seem odd, but I think these techniques get my emotional information across.
Another person’s partial solution to this issue has been “VSRE.” Standing for “very short response expected,” this could be something you throw into a subject line so the recipient knows they can just reply with a short “Yes,” “No,” or “Maybe next week” without hurting your feelings.
I strive to engage with my clients. That requires building a relationship with them that email isn’t all that great for, but it’s a necessary tool of the trade. I’m doing my best to make it work.