The Influence of Textual Cues on First Impressions of an Email Sender

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Shannon L. Marlow of Rice University, Christina N. Lacernza of University of Colorado Boulder, and Chelsea Iwig of the NASA Johnston Space Center. They recently published an article in the Business and Professional Communication Quarterly entitled “The Influence of Textual Cues on First Impressions of an Email Sender,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Marlow reveals the motivation for conducting this research:]

BPCQ.indd“Our motivation in pursuing the present research was to uncover practical implications regarding how to compose an email and explore facets of virtual communication. Specifically, we were interested in emails within a business context and how subtle cues within the email would influence perceptions of the email sender. We assessed whether closing salutations would impact the email receiver’s perception of the sender. As the cues within an email are limited, we believed that such cues would have an impact. We manipulated closing salutations (i.e., no salutation, “Thanks!,” “Best,” or “Thank you”), gender of the email sender, and sending method (i.e., email sent via desktop computer/laptop as compared to email sent via a mobile device). We assessed how these manipulations influenced perceptions of positive affect, negative affect, professionalism, and competence.

We were surprised to find that, on the whole, study participants rated women senders as more professional across the majority of conditions; however, women were rated as less competent when they used the “Thanks!”salutation. It appears that women are penalized for using this particular salutation whereas men are perceived similarly, in regards to competence, across all closing salutations examined in this study. We were further surprised to find that there were no differences in regards to perceptions of senders using different sending methods. It appears individuals perceive mobile devices as a professional method of communication for business exchanges. Finally, and in line with similar findings from the literature, we found that positive affect can be conveyed through using an exclamation point (i.e., using “Thanks!” as a closing salutation) and thus punctuation may be used to convey excitement and enthusiasm about work-related matters. On the whole, our findings indicate that subtle cues within emails are capable of influencing perceptions and individuals should reflect carefully when composing an email to ensure they are doing so in a way that promotes desired perceptions.”

 

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