Font Fiasco: When it feels like someone is shouting over e-mail

by epi on July 5, 2012

Q: How do I deal with a co-worker who sends me e-mails with certain words and sentences in all caps and bold lettering?  From what I’ve heard, this is the equivalent of shouting at someone.  It seems like she does it to imply that I’m too stupid to read an ordinary e-mail and that I need capitalization and bold letters.

A: First, check discreetly with a few other colleagues to see if they’re also receiving all-caps e-mails from your co-worker.  If you’re the only person she’s sending them to, then the next thing you have to decide is whether this is an issue you want to tackle.  If it is, ask to meet with her.  Explain that it seems unusual for her to make such an effort to send e-mails to you in all caps and that you’re not sure why she is doing it, but you’re concerned because caps often imply anger or frustration, and you want to be sure there’s no problem between the two of you.  If it turns out she’s sending all-caps e-mails to everyone in the office, then it’s not because of any issue with you.  Either her manager or a co-worker who is a good friend should talk to her about changing to sentence case.  It will be easier for everyone to read, and won’t cause any misunderstandings.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Rebecca July 5, 2012 at 9:09 am

My initial impression is that the co-worker is older – in my experience, older folks who didn’t grow up with computers tend to be less comfortable using them overall and also don’t absorb the “rules” the same way as younger users. So I’d be willing to bet the person just plain doesn’t realize the impression he or she is making.

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Erica July 5, 2012 at 11:26 am

I think it’s fairly obvious that all caps sends a way different tone than regular sentence case. People have been writing for centuries. I lived at a condo whose staff would not only use all caps, they would also underline, italicize, bold, use a million different colours, and a 50 pt font to state their “power”. It was so ridiculous, most owners would just delete the emails automatically.

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Jerry July 5, 2012 at 4:52 pm

You don’t mention it and/or respond in kind.

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Vanna Keiler July 8, 2012 at 3:42 pm

I like the EPI response to this question. If nothing else works, tell the co-worker the all-caps is hard on the eyes (it is!) and as a result takes longer to read the contents, which suggests inefficiencies which could be avoided. You could also mention this to the manager as a reason for not wanting to read any more all-caps.

All-caps is used for instruction where there is a real need, where a possibility exists someone could be injured, fired or something terrible would happen if the instructions were not thoroughly read and understood. And even in these exceptions , used ever so sparingly.

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