Thanks to technology, there are so many new ways we can communicate 鈥 and so many new rules about digital聽etiquette. Bad texting manners stress us out, and you still need to be polite聽on Tinder dates, even if it鈥檚 so God-awful you have to聽(gracefully) exit a date early. Then there鈥檚 the one we dread the most: sending an important email.

Smiling young woman in coffee shop

If you鈥檙e always adding extra聽punctuation and emoticons to your work emails so you don鈥檛 come off too 鈥渃old,鈥 we feel you. (Personally, we鈥檙e big fans of embedded gifs.) And it turns out, your instincts might be right 鈥 but, you鈥檙e still wasting your time. According to new research, all of us are super bad at accurately interpreting emotion through emails (even聽with our friends), and doing things like typing in all-caps, adding exclamation points and ending a sentence with a ;) doesn鈥檛 really help.

In a series of studies, researchers at Chatham University had people write emails, then strangers聽rated them for different emotions. Then they repeated the exercise, but this time, writers sent their emails to both strangers and friends. And as it turned out, while all parties were pretty confident in their email reading and writing abilities,聽they didn鈥檛 score very high for accuracy. And it didn鈥檛 make a difference whether the writer went all emoticon-happy in the subject and body or not.

African american woman sitting at cafe with laptop

The researchers wrote that it鈥檚 the communication of inflection that gets聽lost,聽since typically we read that through facial expressions, gestures or tone. For example, you might be able to tell that your friend is annoyed about something, but you can鈥檛 tell HOW annoyed. You might even think they鈥檙e just kidding around when they鈥檙e actually super angry face emoji 鈥 and then they鈥檒l be聽angry-face emoji at you too for not following up.

If you鈥檙e now聽extra stressed about hitting 鈥渟end,鈥 don鈥檛 worry 鈥 we asked an etiquette expert for some tips to help us all be better at reading and writing emails.聽Elaine Swann is an all-around etiquette guru, with special knowledge when it comes to business communications. She鈥檚 also the author of聽Let Crazy Be Crazy,聽a book on how to politely navigate all of life鈥檚 most awkward and blood-pressure-raising moments.

Female Designer In Modern Office Working On Digital Tablet


1. Think in terms of text blocks. Overloading your emails with information is a common mistake. 鈥淭he message and the tone tend聽to get lost when there鈥檚 too much clutter,鈥 Elaine explains. She suggests breaking up your text into more paragraphs than you might normally, because when text blocks are less dense, they鈥檙e easier for people to decipher and simpler to proofread.

2. Put yourself in the other person鈥檚 shoes. Speaking of proofreading, when you look over your email, you should be doing more than just searching for grammar and punctuation errors. 鈥淲e want to make sure we鈥檙e doing a self-check and thinking about how the other person will take what we鈥檙e saying,鈥 says Elaine. 鈥淣ot just 鈥楧id I get my point across?鈥 but also 鈥楬ow could this possibly be received?'鈥

3.聽Use emoticons wisely.聽If it鈥檚 a work email, just don鈥檛 use 鈥檈m. But, if you鈥檙e concerned about someone misinterpreting a joke or sarcasm, Elaine says it is appropriate to use parentheses or brackets to write out the emotion you鈥檙e trying to convey. 鈥淩ather than the emoticon, just write the word 鈥榮mile鈥 or literally say 鈥榠nsert joke here鈥 or 鈥榡oking,鈥 so they don鈥檛 have to figure it out,鈥 she says. 鈥淚t doesn鈥檛 get any more straightforward than that. And in a business setting, I would definitely recommend that over emoticons or over-punctuating with exclamation points.鈥

4. Take the convo offline. One of her biggest pieces of advice is to know when to take the conversation offline. 鈥淪ometimes you have to push back from your computer and pick up the phone and talk to the person,鈥 she says. 鈥淭oo often people keep trudging forward to get their point across. I鈥檝e seen too many instances where there鈥檚 a lot of back-and-forth, and really it was back there on email number three when you just weren鈥檛 connecting, and you should have picked up the phone.鈥澛燰erbal communication will always be clearer because you can hear the tone, which is especially necessary if it鈥檚 a situation where you might owe the other person an apology.

What are your tips for writing clear, effective emails? Tweet us your ideas @BritandCo.

(Photos via Getty)