When to Use an Emoticon in Text Messages

At some point, we’ve all sent or received an awkward with text, which is usually due to miscommunication. A sarcastic joke can easily appear harsh, especially when body language and tone of voice are absent. I can’t even begin to list the number of time I argued via text due to confusion over a text’s meaning.

How can we possibly tweak this calamity? Luckily, the engineers behind mobile applications have invented an array of faces, known as “emoticons” and more informally, “emojis,” to add character into flat or ambiguous messages. Emoticons, which were first seen in AOL’s instant messaging, are now available for use in email, various mobile applications and even video chat, like Skype. With the iPhone’s extensive emoticon options, it’s difficult to send messages without a cute winking face or waving cat.

Simply put: they’re quite entertaining, but we need to set a limit.

To best compliment a text, emoticons need to be used properly and sparingly. Here’s how to consider when the little guys in your phone are most needed.

A. Determine the medium in which you’re using the emoticon. Texting a winking face differs from emailing one to a co-worker, blogging one or posting one in a forum. These faces are not recognized as professional and should never be placed in work-related documents, government documents or resumes/cover letters.

If you’re discussing a serious incident at work, responding 😦 I’m sorry is probably not your best bet in conveying professionalism.

Use your best judgment in determining where it’s appropriate to place an emoji.

B. Consider the type of message you’re sending. If you’re joking with a friend, a silly emoticon may be best to lighten the message’s tone. For example:

John: Hey Sarah, you were really on a role with your jokes last night.

This text’s intention is sarcastic, but it only sounds argumentative and somewhat rude. Including an emoticon can easily fix this.

John: Hey Sarah, you were really on a role with your jokes last night 😉

Automatically, the mood is lightened.

C. Reflect on the conversation and consider how many emoticons were already used. Is it excessive? Since emojis are particularly popular with teens, overusing them signifies immaturity. For adults, the amount of emoticons should be limited to very few, only when necessary .

D. Emojis are meant to complement a conversation, not distract from it. Since facial expression and attitude is absent from texting, emoticons help us convey emotion. However, you wouldn’t want to suggest experiencing an emotional roller-coaster throughout conversation. Excessive use may cause one to question the seriousness of the conversation, and even your credibility. Know when a cute smiley would add a touch of humor, or when it’s superfluous.

Emoticons are like any other phone application or technological tool: they must be used sparingly and within reason. Use of the wrong emoji can communicate a creepy or rude vibe, when use of the right smiley can add silliness to a flat conversation. Use your best judgment in determining when and where a smiley is best.


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