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Text Messaging, the Internet, and Formality

Sometimes it's OK to use text messaging abbreviations and sometimes it isn't. Do you know the difference?

By
Mignon Fogarty
1-minute read

Halloween Emoji

A few weeks ago I saw something that before then I had heard of but hadn’t seen myself: a smiley face in a very formal document, or, I suppose I should say, what should have been a very formal document. I literally thought of it and then sputtered for days.

There’s nothing new about cute abbreviations. OK, one of the most recognized English words in the world, came out of a cute abbreviation, and America’s founding fathers could have used the abbreviation IOU (for I owe you). A few decades later, the cost of sending a telegram encouraged people to use even more abbreviations and shortened forms of words. Today though, smartphone-wielding text messagers and tweeters may be playing with language and abbreviations more than ever before. And there’s nothing wrong with that! If you want to text your best buddy you’re going to be l8 (late) or that you LOLed (laughed out loud), have at it. That’s an appropriately informal situation. I just discovered that my phone has Halloween emoji, so you may be seeing ghosts or pumpkins on my Twitter feed soon. They look like fun.

But here are some formal documents in which you shouldn’t use emoji, smiley faces, or text messaging abbreviations: business plans, mission statements, resumes, cover letters, letters of recommendation, or pretty much any school assignment that I can think of right now. Seriously, you still need to take some things seriously. 

About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show.

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