How to Improve Communication by Text (and Texting)

Text is a very limited medium. Make sure you're using it so it gets your point across.

Stever Robbins,
March 20, 2018
Episode #494

an image of a phone and text message bubbles

Text changes the way we communicate. The conventions are changing quickly, and they affect how people perceive you. Back in the Stone Age, people used to communicate with each other by making the air vibrate, by bouncing light waves off their faces, and scrunching up their facial and body muscles. It was called “having a conversation in person,” and it was terribly inefficient. Now, we’ve taken out all of that nuance, the visual cues, and the voice tone. 

Since text misses all those cues, it’s easily misunderstood. Plus, the conventions—such as they are—change. If you’re over 25, you use text differently than a teenager. And if you’re over 40? *Giggle.* Get a grip. You probably think good writing is sexy. And a few years ago, yes, in this wacky online world, punctuation, grammar, and spelling were basically secondary sexual characteristics (there’s a reason Grammar Girl is so popular). But now? That semicolon makes you look old. People expect you to wear flower-print sun dresses and smell like nonenal.

So here are some hints about how to text well.

Use Different Rules for Different Contexts

Writing is no longer just one thing, “writing.” These days, writing changes according to context. You don’t write a blog post the way you’d write an article, you don’t write a LinkedIn status update the way you’d write a blog post, and you don’t write a text message the way you’d write a status update. In each place, how you write determines where you are in the social hierarchy.

Use the right style for the write audience, or risk being labeled a blarg hunkerer, which is slang from a generation other than yours and probably means something unspeakably insulting.

In an article, use logic, good grammar, proper punctuation, complete sentences, and capitalization. 

In a status update, also use all of those, but skip the logic.

On LinkedIn, just grab an inspiring quote from a high school sports locker room and change the word “teammate” to “customer delight associate.” 

In text messages, skip everything. spell wrong. short sentences. grammar? no! capitalization optional

And in text messages, punctuation is extremely important. But not the way it is elsewhere. Ending a text with a period means you’re upset. Omit punctuation to signal the conversation continues. Capitalization looks prudish. And avoid dependent clauses or sophisticated grammar. Even if you’re texting Grammar Girl, abbreviate words. If you’re a trained writer, it will be painful to do this. But text messages are simply different that way.

Use Lowercase

If you’re writing a book report, you might put the title of a section in all upper case because it looks good. In conversational text, however, that’s a huge no-no. At worst, all caps is interpreted as shouting, and gives the impression of hysterical overreaction, foaming at the mouth, and generally behaving like a modern world leader. At best, it looks like you haven’t figured out how to turn off your “caps lock” key. Neither of those make a good impression.

When you’re writing complete sentences, use proper capitalization. In text messages, if you don’t want to deal with shifting between upper and lower case, opt for all lower case.