We're often asked how to punctuate requests properly and politely. Today's post addresses this issue.
In order to be polite, requests, suggestions, and commands are often phrased as questions. Use a period to end this kind of sentence if you expect your reader to respond by acting rather than by giving you a yes-or-no answer.
- Will you please call us at once if we can be of further help.
- Would you please send all bills to my bookie for payment while I'm in jail.
- Will the audience please rise.
- Would you kindly respond by February 29, 2008.
If you are asking a favor or making a request that your reader may be unable or unwilling to grant, use a question mark. This allows your reader the chance to say no.
When addressing a request to someone who reports to you, the expectation is that they will comply. Therefore, a period can be properly used. However, a question mark establishes a nicer tone, as it is always nicer to be asked to do something rather than be told to do it. However, if you wish to avoid giving your subordinates the impression that your request allows for a yes-or-no answer, simply drop the attempt at politeness and issue a straightforward command.
As a general rule, use a period only when you are sure that your reader is not likely to consider your request presumptuous. If you are not sure whether to use a question mark or a period, reword the sentence so that it is clearly a question or a statement.
- Would you be willing to handle the collection process for me while I'm away?
- I would appreciate your handling the collection process for me while I'm away.
Source: The Gregg Reference Manual and The Chicago Manual of Style.