Research has shown that you really only have a 50-50 chance of correctly identifying the tone of email messages. Stephen Leahy of Wired News takes a look at a research study published in the December, 2005 issue of the Journal of Personality and Psychology. If interested, copies of the Journal article can be purchased from this link.
This research study confirms that a lot of users can’t accurately determine whether the person writing the email intended to tell a joke, be serious, or was being sarcastic. The person reads into the message what they want to hear. As Leahy’s article notes, many companies deal with workplace lawsuits over what is written in company emails.
Word to the wise — if you’re dealing with a sensitive issue, think twice before sending it over email. It’ll avoid misunderstandings and misapprehensions.