Using all CAPS in a Sentence

I feel this goes without saying, but many people use the ‘all CAPS’ strategy when trying to make emails clearer. In my view, it’s the clearest approach to conveying unhappiness as possible. When I read an email that includes all CAPS, it tells me that the writer is angry, upset, annoyed, and/or flames are coming out of their ears and they want me to know that it’s all on me.

Is that not how you meant your ‘all CAPS’ to be interpreted? I suggest you just say it in the email instead of attempting editorial approaches to emphasis added. If you are angry, say “hey xyz, I’m not super happy about how X went down and I kind of think you’re at fault. Let’s not beat around the bush here, why don’t you call me and we’ll chat.” Done. Everyone is on the same page, no one is left wondering what it means when you wrote “THOSE DISHES IN THE KITCHEN WON’T CLEAN THEMSELVES.”

We laugh, but in 15 years of working in various office settings, I have seen people use the all CAPS method to convey a wide range of emotions and have never even once accurately guessed the emotion the writer was trying to convey. It doesn’t work, it’s not a successful strategy and should not be used. There, I said it.

Here are a few tips for when and when not to use emphasis added:

One – Deadlines – deadline looming? Great, bold and underline the sentence hidden in your email with the day and time of the deadline. Makes it easier on everyone – here’s a tip, put it in the subject line of your email so people can see it as a quick reminder.

Two – Emails to multiple people – highlighting works well. Each person gets a color and can easily see which part of the email is for them. Also good for calling out different topics in the email.

Three – Editing another person’s email – your friend has a deadline looming and needs to email the boss. She quickly sends her draft for you, begging for a second review. Like a good friend, you jump in to add your tweaks, but how to make it clear for your friend? Highlighting works well or change the color of the font. If you are an editing guru you might use those fun editing symbols for new paragraph and insert here. However, and I can’t stress this enough, DO NOT (see the emphasis added?) add highlighting and comments such as ‘what were you thinking,’ or ‘try again,’ and for all our sakes, suggest alternative language. There is nothing worse than feedback from a coworker that explains that something is wrong, but not how to fix it.

Four – Pointing out flaws – If you need to email someone about something you think is an error or mistake on their part. Be clear, ‘xyz, I think I see a mistake here,’ or ‘I’m not following your logic,’ is much better than using bolding and highlighting and in big all CAPS writing ‘YOU ARE NOT GETTING THIS.” The question is, what aren’t they getting? Where have you miscommunicated? Bolding and using all the CAPS you want won’t answer those questions. Also, answering a question with all CAPS, is just as aggressive as it sounds. It only services to upset the reader, confuse everyone, and create a big ole’ black hole of lost trust.

As a starting point, go cold turkey. Don’t use bolding, underlining, highlighting, or CAPS in any email at all. Get used to being more descriptive instead. It’ll make your writing better. And then slowly start using one or two to try them out. Ask your coworkers to read your emails to see if they understand the message you were conveying. And finally, consider drafting a list of acceptable uses for bold, underline, highlight, and CAPS for your office that everyone shares – essentially an email translation guide to prevent confusion. Feel free to use the list above as a starting point.

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