The merits of keeping email formal

Those of you who equate emailing with texting could face dire consequences in how you are perceived.

For some, email has become the preferred medium to channel their inner e.e. cummings, as they eschew capitalization for an unapologetic army of lowercase letters. But, those of you who equate emailing with texting could face dire consequences in how you are perceived.

First off, writing properly in emails should be a no-brainer for people who think that they, at any time, may face an indictment. How would they want to be represented to the general public, should their messages be subpoenaed and posted online? Do they want to appear learned, wise and thoughtful, or like a teenager in the back seat of her parents’ car during a long drive?

Also, wouldn’t it be nice to give letters a chance to stand up when their time is due? Letters spend most of their lives sitting down — the ones in each sentence lucky enough to be placed at the front, or at the helm of a proper noun, deserve their day in the sun. Don’t deny them that pleasure.

However, never, under any circumstance, overcompensate by using all-caps. That is the most odious offense of any written communique. It doesn’t say that you’re yelling; it says that you’re insane. If you need to put a little force behind your words, use an exclamation mark. If it needs more than that, use three. If you’re still not at the level you seek, scream the message in the person’s face.

If you are among those who go the “an end mark of punctuation means nothing to me in terms of capitalization” route, you should at least cap proper nouns. This shows that you’re not lazy, and you know which words should be capped. It also shows that you simply do not care about the ones at the beginning of sentences, and indifference is usually better than ignorance.

I’ve even seen a few people who keep “I” lowercased when referring to themselves. Have they no personal pride? No self-esteem? A little narcissism never hurt anybody (aside from Narcissus). I know that some of my Caucasian friends are constantly checking their white privilege, but the lowercase first-person pronoun is too much, if you ask me.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think, in many cases, there is an abundance of forced formality in the world today. And I myself am guilty of lowercased lettering. But informality has become too pervasive. It’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed; wearing a baseball cap and flip-flops are fine (well, maybe not flip-flops for a man), but you should never go to a nice restaurant looking like that.

Finally, much like French food, presentation goes a long way. How we communicate speaks volumes. The letter used to be one of the beautiful forms of writing in this country. One need only peruse the letters of Lincoln, Twain, Dickinson and other great Americans to find how glorious the English language can be. Where has that spirit gone? Why can’t our messages be that great again? Then again, who knows how emails from even these great writers would look today. With text abbreviations and the usage of numbers for words, Twain could have written a much shorter letter in half the time today.

So the next time you’re dashing off an email, consider the recipient. He or she should be given the chance to scroll through a meadow of proper punctuation, as it may be the only neat one that he or she receives that day. And, if by chance you — or the person you’re talking to — gets embroiled in a scandal, you can rest assured that you’ll come out looking, if not erudite, than at least literate.

Daniel DiPrinzio is a writer in Glenside, Pa. He wrote this for The Philadelphia Inquirer.