How do you convey tone in email without seeming childish or girlish? Can you ever use exclamations in emails?

As we all know, tone is hard to convey properly via email. However, whenever I am inclined to use an ! to convey a positive tone, I get the sense that it actually reads as childish or immature. I also never seem to notice men using !’s in emails, either…. I’d love to hear yours and others thoughts on this!

A lot has been written about overuse of exclamations in emails — with some people even suggesting that one exclamation mark per email is a good rule to follow. There’s even an app to help you check the tone of your email! My best general advice is that abbreviations, multiple punctuation marks (!!!), and overly casual phrases (“amazeballs!”) have no place in professional emails. Beyond that, I think a lot of this depends on why you want to use a positive tone. For example:

• If you’re telling a subordinate he or she did a good job: They don’t care if you use exclamation marks; they’re just happy to get the praise. I think something like, “Outstanding!” is professional and encouraging without seeming juvenile.
• 如果你想要告诉一位下属他/她干得不错:他们根本不在乎你有没有用惊叹号;他们总是很高兴得到表扬的。我觉得就像“真不错!”这样的语句就很职业而且很能激励人,还不会显得太幼稚。

• If you’re trying to sugarcoat a bad situation for a superior: Exclamation marks aren’t going to help you here — in fact, they’ll probably hurt you. You don’t want to be overly grave (“I am so sorry this happened!!!”), or overly breezy (“…but on the plus side no one lost a limb!!!”)… it’s a tough tone to strike in email. Which, honestly, is why I recommend picking up the phone or dropping by your boss’s office. Not only do you not have to worry about tone, but you can better gauge your boss’s reaction, and — bonus! — there’s no paper trail that might get forwarded, misconstrued, filed away, etc.
• 如果你想在你的主管面前粉饰一个糟糕的情况:惊叹号对你不会有帮助的——事实上,它们可能还会有坏处。你一定不想显得太过郑重(“对发生这样的事我感到非常抱歉!!!”)或是太过轻松随意(“……不过值得庆幸的是没人受到了什么损失!!!”)……这种语气在邮件里会显得特别强硬。实话实说,这是为什么我建议你打电话或者直接到老板办公室去说。那样你不但不用担心你的语气,还能更好地观察你老板的反应,另外,这样也不会留下会被转发、误解、存档的书面记录。

I guess that’s my best tip — if you’re worried about the tone being misunderstood, it’s best to have the conversation orally . Otherwise, trust yourself and the English language — word choice goes a long way towards, you know, communicating. For example, writing “Great news, team: we are done with the doc review.” doesn’t need any exclamation marks to get the point across.