The Award for Worst Tone in a Business E-mail Goes to. . .

by | Aug 18, 2010 | Writing Matters Blog | 2 comments

As a collector of poorly written e-mails, I thought I’d seen everything: egregious spelling and grammar errors, poor organization, bloated language, and unprofessional tone. So I have to admit that I was shocked by the e-mail my friend “Chris” sent me quoting e-mails that an accountant in her financial services firm sent to a client.

Here’s what Chris wrote:

Thinking of you today because I just came across some poorly written business e-mails, generated right here in my own office! These e-mails are from one of our accountants to a new client — a woman who was divorced about two years ago. She is filing taxes on her own for the first time this year.  I think the client is a little over 50, and the accountant is in his mid-60s. This is a woman he’s never met in person, so we can’t even say that they have forged some sort of relationship. Nor does she write in such an informal fashion.

Here are some selections from his e-mails:

  • “Hey Girl”
  • “Just move on girl, he wins on this one. When you coming by??”
  • “Giving ___ to your hubby”
  • “If you have been a bad girl and didn’t do your homework. . .”

Anyway, nothing I can do about it, so I thought I’d share with you, instead. Of course, I realize that you must have seen much worse.”

Actually, I haven’t seen worse!  Chris wasn’t privy to the client’s reaction to these e-mails, so I can only imagine how quickly she found a new accountant.

Before I award the Worst Tone Award (a tin ear) to this accountant, I thought I’d ask: Have you received e-mails that top this for unprofessional and offensive tone? If so, send them to me, and I’ll share them with our readers. (Names will be changed to protect the whistleblower and the writer with the tin ear.)

— Marilynne Rudick (guest blogger)

Tags: E-mail, Tone


  1. You know, I wish you were more consistent. Here you are always complaining about writing that doesn’t communicate clearly, but this fellow’s message couldn’t be more clear: “I’m a creepy jerk; fire and/or sue me at once.”
    I hope no one accuses me of political correctness, but I’m so surprised that so many people seem to have missed the memo that we’re no longer living in 1956.
    [Obligatory disclaimer that this is not legal advice] Not only can “Chris” do something about it, in many workplaces she would be obligated by policy to do something about it. Please encourage her to contact HR or a senior partner. The days of the “boom boom room” are over.

  2. David,
    You are right. This e-mail conveys a powerful message!
    Not only has the offensive accountant missed the memo about it not being 1956, he also missed the memos and our posts about writing professional e-mail. Just when we think our job is done, along comes someone like this accountant to prove that we will always have work!
    I don’t know the politics of the office where Chris works. But as you know, often it’s the whistleblower who is fired. So Chris took the time-honored route of leaking the e-mail to the press.

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