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Typing in Caps: “Are they yelling at me?”

Formatting in emails and misunderstandings.

I get asked quite often to verify what typing in all caps means. These questions originate from onliners on the receiving end of the email with only certain portions or phrases typed in all caps. They are not sure what the sender meant.

They’ve read that caps means yelling online but aren’t sure how someone they know typing that way applies specifically to them. I then explain that it means they are emphasizing what is capped.

However, without seeing the entire email or knowing the person or their relationship with them, I cannot know what level of emphasis was intended.

That’s the rub!

When you cap or bold, you leave the level of emphasis up to the recipient. So these folks knew some emphasis was added. The thing is, they weren’t sure how much. (I think they knew exactly how much but didn’t like it…)

The formatting of email text is a source of many a misunderstanding. Primarily because senders are not making sure their meaning or intent is how they want it to be perceived.

They assume the other side will know what level of emphasis they meant. Not so. In my experience, the other side will always apply more emphasis than supposedly intended. So another misunderstanding may now commence!

Many type in all caps, bold, and increase font size without worrying they are overemphasizing. When to be honest, if they stopped and thought about the actions they are taking, they would admit they knew exactly what they were doing.

They then get upset 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 choose to type them does make a difference. Know that when formatting is used, it can impact the 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.

If you bold specific terms, make them red and a larger font – what do you think the person on the other side is going to think? That you are making a point. A huge point! So don’t get miffed when their reply assumes you were doing just that.

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.

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