Tuesday, December 28, 2010

E-mail and punctuation

In the news, a not-yet-published study of readers’ reactions to e-mails:

In one of the first studies of its kind, researchers [Frank McAndrew and Chelsea Rae De Jonge] have identified three commonly used e-mail elements as being highly influential in shaping how others perceive us — regardless of whether those conclusions are accurate.
The study looks at the effects of punctuation, typos, and voice on reader-response. Some of the conclusions confirm what common sense would suggest — that use of the first person adds intimacy, that typos aplenty signal a lack of care. The more provocative conclusions concern punctuation:
E-mails with no question marks or exclamation points were perceived as being sent by a superior, while those that included lots of question marks and exclamation points were interpreted as coming from a subordinate.

In general, question marks conveyed anger and confusion, while exclamation points, as you might expect, communicated happiness. The absence of both types of punctuation implied apathy, and a high frequency of such punctuation caused readers to assume the sender was female.

“I guess it's the old stereotype of women being more expressive and emotional. A text message or email that’s chock-full of question marks and exclamation points comes across as a little girlie, for lack of a better way to phrase it,” says McAndrew, adding wryly: “Real men don’t use punctuation; they use caveman-like direct, short sentences.”
Yipes. Notice that McAndrew’s final (publicity-seeking?) sentences make use of five different punctuation marks.

Related posts
E-mail etiquette
How to e-mail a professor
How to punctuate a sentence
How to punctuate more sentences

comments: 2

Daughter Number Three said...

I have a love/hate relationship with exclamation points in emails, and their overuse definitely affects my attitude about the writer.

But question marks are functional parts of a sentence, and I find it odd that readers judged their use as signifying anger and confusion, and their users as female.

I guess this is similar to how most men never ask for directions.... they just pretend to know where they're going.


Michael Leddy said...

I find that much of what I do when I’m e-mailing is a matter of asking questions. How else can one arrange meetings, make requests, and so on? (Oops, another question.)

I sometimes like to add an exclamation point after “Thanks,” but it will just as often look like overkill. The bigger the request, or the timely the help already offered, the more appropriate the exclamation point seems to be.