Is Your Email Style Hurting Your Career?

by  This post can be found here


Whether you are asking for career advice, pitching an editor or emailing a colleague a question, the way that you communicate in email can affect your chances of landing that big media placement, making it to the next level in your career or landing a second date with that guy from OK Cupid.

Last week, the New York Times published an article about the use exclamation marks in email and just how damaging punctuation can be to your personal brand. From the NYT:

“I’m not ashamed of using exclamation points to convey emphasis. I would never use a smiley face, but there are smiley-face personalities. Kathie Lee Gifford comes to mind. People are what they type. But now I am worried: I’m a frequent user of the dash, which might mean that I’m a dash kind of person. Could be a bad sign.”

I reached out to career expert, Penelope Trunk to find out what she thought about exclamation marks in email. “It’s a generational thing. Gen Y uses them. Gen X and Baby Boomers do not. So, older people should use them to look younger. Women have a propensity to emote more than men, so it’s good for men to use exclamation marks-they look more sensitive. The only people who should watch out for using too many are Gen Y women.”

If something as simple as how you use exclamation marks can affect the chances of you receiving a response, how many opportunities have you missed simply because you don’t know how to write a good email?

Here are the five things you can do to make sure your email breaks through the clutter.

1.       Keep it short

People often think of email as a modern version of letter writing and it is these people that write the emails that never end. Let me be clear, email is not letter writing. Email is instant, fast and constant which is why it requires a style of its own.  There are over 294 billion emails sent every single day. People are busy. Keep it short.

“If the body of your email message takes up more than one screen, it is no longer an email message. It is an attachment masquerading as a message. Put all those words in their proper place – by which I mean a Word document — because if I have to scroll down more than a line or two, you’ve lost me.”Stephanie Smirnov, CEO of DeVries PR

2.       Ask the right questions

“I receive a steady stream of emails from people I don’t know. The majority are from 20-somethings who want to know how to be writers. My biggest pet peeve is an endless email in which someone recounts their life/dilemma and then asks me what they should do. How should I know? I don’t know you.” –Susannah Breslin, Journalist

When I asked Claire Diaz Ortiz, the Head of Social Innovation at Twitter what her biggest email pet peeve was she said, “Send me a copied and pasted press release with the original content being something vague and ASK-less saying something like “will you “support”?

I firmly believe that learning to ask good questions is one of the most valuable career skill you can develop. Knowing what information you need and how to craft questions that will illicit those responses seems like a skill that would come intuitively.  This is probably why it is a skill that no one bothers to learn and why no one wants to help you. Learn how to ask the right questions. How can you learn to ask the right questions? Start reading this and then move over to this. Once you are done, email me with any questions you have and I will let you know how you are doing.

3.       Watch for habits

When you think about bad email habits you usually think about habits like checking your email too often, obsessing over your iphone or sending quick responses with spelling errors. However, emailing habits can be much more ingrained than that. How many exclamation marks do you use in one email? How often do you turn caps lock on? Pay attention to how you are using language like “I think,” “maybe,” or “like.” Once you identify your email writing habits make a point to do an extra round of editing and remove the words and punctuation you are overusing.

4.       Spell check, grammar and such

“Misspellings. Really? You’re so busy/important you don’t need to edit your business correspondence? Email programs have spell check. You can use them!”-Stephanie Smirnov, CEO of DeVries PR

I wish that this was so intuitive that I didn’t even have to include it in my list, but it isn’t.

5.       Break the subject line code

In my post, What Being a Lush Taught Me About Pitching Media, I explain that vague subject lines get the most response, but if you look in the comments journalists did not like this idea. Learning to write effective subject lines is the key to getting your email opened and writing a good email is the key to getting a response.

What is your biggest email pet peeve?


Cassie Boorn is a writer, social media specialist, entreprenuer and PR girl who has built digital programs for Fortune 500 companies, entrepreneurs, small businesses and bloggers. You can find her shelling out PR and career advice weekly at 


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