How to Write Friendlier Emails

I grew up in a house where sarcasm usually took the place of anything resembling sincerity, which, some might say has made me a prickly person.

I'd disagree. As I took to becoming a writer and working with other word-slingers, coming from a place that trained me to have more sensitive hearing for people's tone and intentions was incredibly helpful.

All of this is to say: Sometimes when I speak, my sincerity can be interpreted as sarcasm, but in writing I have a couple ironclad ways to come across as friendly, warm and affable, even if you aren't really. No, I don't want to tell you how to mislead the people you email with -- this post is about highlighting a couple of behaviors and remedies to assure your emails are as convivial as possible. I don't know what you're gonna do with all the flies you'll catch with this honey, but trust me: I know what I'm talking about.

The exclamation point is your very best friend

I know, I know. You've probably been told never to use the exclamation point, ever. But in emails I use them all the time, in conjunction with a couple pleasantries and polite hellos. Unless you're extremely tight with the person you're contacting, it's kinda rude to just jump right into the matter at hand. Why? Take a look at the following email, and tell me if you think it comes across as friendly or not.

"To: Cliff Everest, head of technologies
From: Mr. Email
Subject: Printing as a PDF


Your interns broke the printer back here. There's a paper jam or something and I tried to fix it but all we have now is a couple ripped pages stuck in the thingy. I have to print this stuff as a PDF I guess but I don't know have to do this. I have to have these documents on Mr. Seymour's desk by 3 p.m.

Mr. Email"

Starting with a complaint the recipient has no control over, weaving in a couple of other problems you clearly caused by trying to fix it yourself and acting like your job is far more important than theirs -- even though you depend on their help -- is a veritable grand slam of rudeness. A better tact would have been being friendly, lobbing in a couple exclamation points and, oh, not being a jerk about it. Try this instead:

"To: Cliff Everest, head of technologies
From: Mr. Email
Subject: Can you help? Printing as a PDF

Hey Cliff,

I know it's kinda short notice but there's something screwy with the printer back here… I tried to fix it myself but instead I caused a paper jam. Oops. Anyway, I have a document I need to have printed out pretty soon and I was hoping you could help me since Mr. Seymour needs it within the hour.

Help me Obi-Wan, you're my only hope!


Mr. Email"

Oh, by the way. Printing as a PDF doesn't actually print out a physical document. Any good IT guy would stop you right there, Mr. Email.

Know when one-word responses are acceptable

Let's say you spent a long time on a report or analysis and send it along to your manager. You really poured your guts into it, offered some fantastic insights and went above and beyond on it. You feel a sense of relief when you send it off, knowing you can cross it off your to-do list and move onto the next thing. Even though you know you're delivering some bad news, you know you're just the messenger.

If you're on the receiving end of this, don't just say, "Amazing." It'll read as sarcastic, rude and demoralizing. At the very least, confirm receipt of it and thank them for their work on it. To clarify, I'm not saying you need to hand out trophies to everyone just for doing their jobs, but a little kindness goes a long way. Especially as the next generation of workers, the Millennials or whatever you want to call them, seem to get their purpose and drive from being communicated with often. (See Jabez LeBret's recent Inc. Well piece on managing these kids here) I'm not saying you have to completely cater your entire vocabulary and speech patterns to what they expect -- but part of being a good manager is knowing how to keep your troops loyal, happy and working. Don't breed bitterness just because you want to save yourself a few seconds. They're working, too. 

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a columnist for EGM. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

Contact Us