Achieve the Appropriate Tone in Email

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Tone is important in any form of communication. Are you using the appropriate tone when communicating with email?

Email messages are different from typed letters. You can’t be “too” formal in a letter. In an email, too formal looks silly. What’s the appropriate tone for an email? - slightly more casual than a letter. Yet, there is a fine line between being too casual and too formal.

The attitude and culture of your company will dictate the amount of formality necessary. Meeting planners and hotels won’t be as formal as a bank or law firm.

As you compose the message, consider the person who will be reading it. Know your audience. It’s easier if you are replying to a message. Then you simply match the tone to that of the sender.

When in doubt, strive for a tone that is professional, yet conversational. Try using contractions (I’ll, we’ll, he’s, she’s). In conversation, we use the words “I, we, you. ” So, use these in emails.

Be careful with “I, ” though. Using too many can be perceived as egocentric. You don’t want to appear as a pompous meeting planner. If you notice an abundance of “I’s, ” try rewriting every other sentence. This will create variety, and that pesky personal pronoun won’t be as obvious.

In addition to being conversational, an email should be concise. The average office worker sends and receives 36 email messages every day. Some people receive literally hundreds daily. There’s no room for fluff. By keeping your message short, there’s a better chance it’ll be read.

In email messages, “short” equals one screen (not one page). Busy readers don’t bother to scroll down. So, put your most important information first. Don’t bury it in the fourth sentence of the third paragraph. Consider using the journalism technique of the “five W’s”: Who, What, Where, When and Why. Start with the vitals, then elaborate later.

The best email sentences and paragraphs are brief. These are quick for the receiver to read and easy on the eyes. Double space between paragraphs and don’t indent.

How do you write “briefly”? One technique is to omit wordy phrases.

  • Instead of “as a general rule” use “generally”
  • Instead of “on two different occasions” use “twice”
  • Instead of “at this point in time” use “now”
  • Instead of “more than one” use “multiple”

    Since people are notorious for skimming email messages, create lists. These can be read at a glance, and readers aren’t as likely to miss something important. Use numbers or bullets to highlight each point. You have three options: complete sentences, or fragments/phrases, or single words. Just be consistent. Don’t make point number one a sentence and point number two a single word. Whatever method you select, capitalize the first word.

    You may double space between the listed items or not. Double spacing makes the list easier to read, but it also takes up more of that oh-so-precious screen space.

    By Kelly J. Watkins, MBA, Louisville, KY. Visit: to order, Email Etiquette Made Easy (a comprehensive guide filled with exercises & examples) or for tips on communication & customer service! (812) 246-2424 or

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