Emails seem informal, yet they can be your one form of communication with a potential employer, boss, or any other important figure. Use the wrong punctuation, and you may not be taken as seriously as you hoped.
So which punctuation is okay and which should you use minimally, if at all? Here’s a quick guide.
1. Always end a sentence with punctuation
All sentences must end with a punctuation mark. It gives the sentence structure and allows the reader to go from one thought to another.
Usually, you end sentences with a period, but an occasional question mark is okay too. Just don’t overdo it.
2. Avoid too many question marks
If you’ve ever read an email with more than a couple of question marks, it can feel like more of an interrogation than an email.
A question or two is okay but too many, and your reader won’t know how to respond.
3. Avoid exclamation points
No matter how excited you are about the news you’re sharing in your email, don’t end with an exclamation point.
Once or twice in an email may be okay if it’s a somewhat personal email to a co-worker or boss. Still, if it’s a professional email on any level, it’s best to avoid the exclamation points altogether.
4. Avoid aggressive punctuation
Punctuation seems so innocent, but it can get aggressive if you aren’t careful. When you ask a question, you may come across as demanding if you end it with two question marks.
For example: Where is the report??
When you read that, you can feel the person’s frustration or anger, which isn’t a good feeling to send across email, even if it’s not meant that way. The reader will interpret what they think, and oftentimes double punctuation feels like you’re pointing fingers.
5. Watch your email salutations
Email salutations are another area you should watch when writing business emails. First, determine the email’s formality. Is it going to someone you don’t know but want to do business with or a potential employer?
If so, use formal punctuation. When you write your salutation, use a colon to end it. For example, Dear Mrs. Johnson:.
Now, if you’re writing an email to a co-worker or someone you’ve done business with often and are in less formal terms, it’s okay to end the greeting with a comma. For example, Dear Mrs. Johnson is OK.
6. Why you should watch your punctuation
Emails leave room for a lot of interpretation. What you meant and what’s inferred aren’t always the same thing if you aren’t careful.
Rather than using aggressive punctuation, or worse yet, incorrect punctuation, use a free tool, such as Grammarly, to ensure your punctuation is correct, and your email will have the right tone.
Before you write an email, decide, is it formal or informal? Even if it’s casual, it’s not an excuse to let the grammar go. You have a point you want to get across, and when you use incorrect grammar, the message may get lost in the grammar’s messiness.
Take your time, write what you mean, and use tools to make sure your thoughts make sense and your recipient won’t mistake it for something else.