Tone and Content Add Up To Successful Emails

Q. Like so many of us, I have had my fair share of sending emails that are tinged with frustration or annoyance or other emotion that, when expressed in an email, is magnified one hundred-fold to the reader on the other end. As we all know, these never have the intended effect but rather often require apologizing for the tone of our email.

Recently, I decided to be proactive to avoid the situation, and devised a method to guard against ugly intonation making its way into my emails.

I have hijacked the auto signature to create an auto salutation. Simply, when I start an email or reply to one, the word “Dear” is automatically inserted although a few lines below the cursor, and I must position the cursor after the word Dear to insert the reader’s name. This slows down the process of writing an email just a few moments, but also reminds me why I am doing this in the first place. The word Dear and the need to position the cursor set the stage for a polite email.

The auto signature, then, creates this format for any email, whether new or reply:

[Cursor here]


Your Name

While the salutation Dear may seem a bit forced, especially with colleagues you have an informal relationship with, it is a small price to pay for ensuring that email tone remains appropriate. Just a thought for you in case you think it would help some of your readers.

J. M., Boston MA


A. I applaud J. M. for his ingenuity, but more importantly for his focus on keeping the tone of his emails positive. Email is a fast means of communication and that speed can be our downfall. We don’t proofread; we write without thinking about how the recipient hears what we communicate. Because J. M.’s device slows him down, he can consider more carefully how he is communicating and end up doing it more effectively and positively.

What else can you do to ensure that your message is perceived as positive? One trick many participants in our business etiquette seminars suggest is to fill in the “To” field last. Doing this prevents you from inadvertently sending a message before you have finished writing and proofing it.

Any time I write an email and I think its tone could possibly be misinterpreted, I ask someone else at Emily Post to read it. While I hear positive, they may hear negative and then help me edit it to improve my message.

If no one is available, I’ll try reading my message out loud. Reading it silently doesn’t work, but when you listen to your words out loud, you can hear that snarky or sarcastic tone you really didn’t intend. Just as content matters, so, too, does tone. Thanks, J.M.

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