Does typing in all caps still indicate that the sender is yelling at you? Even after all these years? Based on the number of folks who ask me about this, it appears they are still looking for confirmation about what typing in caps actually means.
Well, that meaning can be subjective. And the same email read by different folks can be interpreted differently.
These questions originate from onliners on the receiving end of an email with only certain portions or phrases typed in all caps. Their query indicates that they are not quite sure what the sender meant.
Additional questions follow: “Were they really ‘yelling’ at me?” “Does typing in red caps mean more than plain caps?”
They’ve read that caps means yelling online but aren’t sure how someone they know typing that way applies specifically to them. The thing is, it is not always that they intend to yell; more so, they are emphasizing what is capped.
What is risky in communicating in this manner is that the level of emphasis is subjective. Without seeing the entire email for context or knowing the person and the relationship with them, I cannot know what level of intensity was intended. Many times those who know each other have a difficult time determining the implied level of emphasis.
That’s The Rub
When you cap or bold, you leave the level of emphasis up to the recipient to determine. So these folks knew the sender added some emphasis. But they aren’t sure how much. (I think they know exactly how much but may not like it?)
The formatting of email text is a source of many a misunderstanding. Primarily because senders are not being transparent with their intent. They cap their words, not fully understanding how they will be perceived.
They assume the other side will know what level of emphasis they meant. But, in my experience, the other side will always apply more emphasis than supposedly intended.
If you cap words plan on that. Another misunderstanding may now commence.
Choose Words not Emphasis
Many type in all caps, bold, and increase font size without worrying whether they are overemphasizing. In reality, if they stopped and thought about their actions, they would admit they knew precisely what they were doing.
They then tend to get defensive when the other side reacts in kind. Since the inception of email (before Judith, BTW), typing in all caps was a way of accentuating your meaning. Yelling, screaming, whatever you want to call it, typing in caps made a point.
After all these years, folks still do not realize that what words they choose to use and how they type them make a huge difference. Going to use formatting? Know that it will impact the overall tone of your email.
Determining Intent and Tone
How does the person on the other side comprehend your intent or meaning? By the words you choose, how you use them and how you may decide to format them. That’s it. That’s all they got.
If you bold specific terms, make them red and in a larger font – what do you think the person on the other side is going to think? That you are making a point. A strong point at that. Otherwise, why did you make an effort to format those particular words?
So don’t get miffed when the return reply assumes you were doing just that. Instead, own it and explain further if you are misunderstood.
I guess the bottom line is whether you like it or not; these perceptions will be there. However, having a solid vocabulary and command of the English language negates the need for any formatting. And avoids unnecessary emotional reactions and misunderstandings.