Our office, like many I suppose, use a office messaging application called Lync ( Skype for the office ). It is very useful for quick conversations with the team and most folks that use it too find it less disruptive than a phone call.

Yesterday I reached out to a colleague who made a tongue in cheek remark about my lack of capitalization and complete sentences. This "quick chat style" I have seen used by many in various departments in or company. For example:

"good morning sir" versus "Good morning sir."

The remark was tongue in cheek, and since I am not a sensitive snow flake, I thought it was funny. But it got me thinking a bit. Is it inappropriate to be informal in an office chat application? Should instant messages be treated similar to emails?

  • 2
    Depends on who you are talking with. If its your team/ subordinates, probably OK. If its senior management, then best to keep it a little formal. However, I wont bother too much about caps etc. Would simply use GM instead of Good Morning :).
    – Rishi Goel
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 13:21
  • 7
    My rule of thumb is to do what the person you are talking to is doing - if s/he responds in a formal way, be formal.
    – xiaomy
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 14:12

5 Answers 5


Create a new 'GRAMMAR POLICE' group in Skype and put troublesome people in there. Then you know whether they're going to whine about your lack of punctuation before you start speaking with them.

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Seriously though, it does make sense to match or exceed your correspondent's writing style.

  • 5
    Perfect, this suites me.
    – Neo
    Commented Sep 8, 2017 at 9:53
  • Also love the group name which I will use.
    – Neo
    Commented Sep 8, 2017 at 12:38
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    @MisterPositive - Not sure using a derisive title for co-workers on a work app is the best idea. Just seems like there is a potential for a minor act of carelessness escalating into something completely avoidable if you do (kind of like complaining about an email or the sender and accidentally copying "all" or the sender instead of just your sympathetic co-worker). Commented Sep 8, 2017 at 13:12
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    @MisterPositive - Maybe just the initials, so it's your inside joke. "What does 'GP' stand for?" "General Purpose {snicker}" Commented Sep 8, 2017 at 13:14
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    I went with the name "Accuracy".
    – Neo
    Commented Sep 8, 2017 at 16:28

Should instant messages be treated similar to emails?

No, just as e-mail are not treated similar to conventional mail, every medium has its own form. Depends on country and corporate culture also.

Is inappropriate to be informal in an office chat application?

Normally not, but it depends. Just as you would write a letter differently to you aunt and to your customer, look at the context. Is it a superior, be more formal.

Now you know, with this specific colleague, be a little bit more thorough.

  • Yes, use the manner of communication that your colleague(s) prefer. Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 16:58

This is a cultural issue. Look at what your colleagues are doing and write in a similar fashion. Make sure to check to see if they write differently when speaking up or down the organizational chain.

In many offices, anything sent in chat is also recorded (we have emails of all chats in our system). Do not say anything in chat that you would have to defend in court or would not want to see on the front page of the local newspaper. This is still business communication. So consider if what you are saying is harassment, racist, suggesting illegal activity or anything that could get the company in legal trouble. While you can generally be more informal, stay aware that this is still company communications and that things that get out of hand can come back to bite you.

And be especially careful what you say to anyone in HR even in chat!!!

  • Oh yeah, some of us old people don't understand all of the abbreviations the young ones use.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 22:14
  • I am pretty old too
    – Neo
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 0:01

You should be as formal as you need to be based on your expectation of the interaction.

Hi Dan, I'd like to leave early on Thursday to see the new Star Wars movie. Thanks!


hey.. lunch today? downstairs of across the street

Yes, chat tends to be must less formal then even email. I used to try to be correct, but, really, it's just not worth time.


You're equating perhaps unclear formatting and punctuation with informality. Those are different concepts. Word choice, capitalization, and punctuation matter to understanding your message. If you're using your phone keyboard, then all lower case is common and expected, but if you're sitting at a full-size keyboard, it's a lot easier to read and your meaning is clearer if you use proper case and punctuation.

Let's eat, Grandma.


lets eat grandma

Punctuation saves lives.

  • 1
    I agree. In my oppinion, you should always strive to use correct spelling, grammar and punctuation, regardless of the recipient or the medium. The tone, however, can vary wildly depending on the recipient. Commented Sep 8, 2017 at 7:44
  • @MikalSchachtJensen Would that apply to text messages too?
    – Neo
    Commented Sep 8, 2017 at 13:18
  • In my oppinion yes. Modern phones with their autocorrect, autocapitalization and word prediction, makes it almost as effortless to write correctly on a touchscreen, as on a keyboard. And the more you practice, the easier it gets. Note that I'm just talking about putting in equal effort into your messages, regardless of the medium. Not that everyone should have perfect spelling and grammar. Commented Sep 9, 2017 at 19:34
  • Luckily, humans are not robots. The meaning will be clear from the context. Life is short. You only need to say just enough so that the recipient understands what you're saying. Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 1:31

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