7 things to check before sending a sarcastic message

Research shows online messages are misinterpreted more than half the time. Here’s what to consider so your recipient understands your tone.


I like to think I’m a funny person, but I’ve found myself trying to be amusing or sarcastic in an email or text message—and no one got the joke.

We’ve all received emails or text messages in the workplace that have made our eyebrows furrow with confusion, right? It’s easy to misinterpret the tone of an electronic communication exchange. Unfortunately, emails and text messages don’t come with a how-to guide for understanding the sender’s body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice.

A research study published in the “Journal of Personality and Social Psychology” found that online messages are misinterpreted more than 50 percent of the time and that senders believe their tone will be properly interpreted 80 percent of the time.

Here are a few steps I recommend before hitting send:

  • Make sure you build a rapport with the person before joking or being sarcastic.
  • Use italics, bold, underline, exclamation points, punctuation, etc., to emphasize a phrase or word, but be careful not to overuse them.
  • Don’t use all capital letters. PEOPLE WILL THINK YOU’RE YELLING.
  • Don’t use LOL or TTYL and the like unless you’re talking to your BFF Jill, or you have a very casual relationship with the person.
  • Use emoticons such as the smiley face or wink face only if you have a casual relationship with the recipient. Emoticons don’t work for every personality type.
  • Avoid getting into negative or emotional conversations. You never know what kind of mood the person is in on the other side of the computer screen or cell phone, and some things are better said face to face or by phone.
  • If you think the other person won’t understand what you’re trying to say, have someone else read it over, and make sure the message makes sense before you send.

Have you had an experience in which you or someone else misinterpreted a sarcastic email or text? Please share it with us in the comments.

Andrea Pecoraro is a social media strategist at Identity, where a version of this article first appeared.

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