How Word Choice Affects Email Tone

It is universally common to hate email, no matter your industry. Emails offer many forms of indignities; too long, too vague, too much content, forwarded conversations, reply all’s, and rapid response expectation. As a coach, I help professionals master all forms of communication, including digital communication. This article will help uncover how poor word choice can create a disconnect with your recipient and negatively affect the tone.

The three examples below highlight how easy it is to use the wrong words that create a challenging tone. I’ll share the most common offenders when it comes to word choice, and provide alternatives for a more productive result.

  1. Overly strong:  If you are guilty of using lots of ALL CAPS, exclamation marks, heaps of bolded sentences, and words like, “now” “urgent,” “extremely time-sensitive” within every other email you send, your choice of overly strong words can send a poor message. When you speak severely within an email, as if you’ve had 43 cups of coffee, you can come across as unorganized, frantic, and reactive. If you need an immediate response, try putting this information in the subject line and one more time at the end of your email, such as a “Five-hour response requested.”  But remember, your lack of planning is not necessarily their problem.
  2. Tentative language:  To be polite or come across as easy-going, people use tentative or neutral language. “I just wanted to email you to ask…” “Just sending a friendly reminder to please…” “I’m not sure if this makes sense, but…” “I’m wondering if maybe you’ve had time to look at my last three emails?” Say what you mean and mean what you say. Instead of using tentative language, try, “This attachment is an update on our numbers for Q3,” or, “I recommend we meet for one hour at the end of the month to finalize the Investor Presentation.”
  3. Vague intentions:  If you send an email to Steve on Friday night that says, “Steve, stop by my office first thing Monday please,” you will traumatize poor Steve. Steve is thinking either he is about to get fired, or he is in serious trouble from his mother-in-law joke at happy hour last week. He will spend the entire weekend selling his hardcover Harry Potter books, so he has money to feed his family. Don’t do that to Steve. Always tell your recipient exactly when and why you’d like to meet with them. To solidify your intentions, you can say, “Steve, I have a new graph for the slide deck. Can you stop by my office first thing Monday so we can add it before the 9: 30 AM meeting?”


In written communication, the tone takes the place of the non-verbal cues and voice inflection that are a vital part of the verbal communication process. To ensure that a written message is received and understood by the reader, writers must be aware of how to set a tone that aligns with the news.

Self-awareness is a critical factor in achieving the right tone in written communication. It takes effort, but conducting a quick email review before hitting send will enhance your email tone and maximize communication impact.

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