Take a look at the most recent text you sent. Does it contain punctuation? Are words capitalized or all lowercase? Does it contain emojis? How formal is the tone?
What makes up your personal text etiquette?
Unlike writing for school or for a newspaper, casual digital communication has no official catalog of rules. This can cause confusion, according to Bloomy, a student winner of our Summer Reading Contest. “Overthinkers are hopelessly faced with a million text dilemmas, reading into two-dimensional letters and cartoon emojis,” Bloomy wrote.
In “No More Periods When Texting. Period.,” Max Harrison-Caldwell considers one of these dilemmas: whether to punctuate the end of text messages.
You’re out with a few friends after a long day at the (Zoom) office. You’ve been presenting a professional version of yourself for eight hours and are so relieved to speak freely at last, with as much slang and intonation and irony as you like. Then another friend joins your group and sits with perfect posture, contributing humorless and grammatically impeccable sentences to the conversation. Are you at ease? Or is this person kind of rubbing you the wrong way?
If you can imagine yourself in this situation, then you can understand how many young people feel when they receive a text buttoned up with a big, authoritative period.
To younger generations, using proper punctuation in a casual context like texting can give an impression of formality that borders on rudeness, as if the texter is not comfortable enough with the texting partner to relax. The message-ending period establishes a certain distance. The punctuation is polite when speaking to someone older than you or above you at work, but off-putting among friends.
Simply put, the inclusion of a formality in casual communication is unnerving.
Think of a mother using her son’s full name when issuing a stern ultimatum. Or of an upset lover speaking to a partner in a cool, professional tone, withholding intimate silliness and warmth to convey frustration. People gain and express interpersonal comfort through unpolished self-presentation, and acting (or writing) too formally comes off as cold, distant, or passive-aggressive.
It’s also worth noting that more of our casual communication is digital now than ever before, so texting etiquette carries at least as much weight as speaking tone.
Students, read the entire article, then tell us:
How do you text? How rigorous are you with capitalization and punctuation while texting? Do you usually send long messages or several short ones? Do you use emojis, tapbacks or abbreviations?
What message do you think your text etiquette sends to others? Why?
Do you agree with Mr. Harrison-Caldwell that concluding a text with a period can come across as “cold, distant, or passive-aggressive”? What other texting faux pas are you aware of? Are there any that really bug you?
What are other forms of communication that have different conventions from those used in texting? How, and why, do you think they differ? If you do not have a cellphone, which modes of communication do you use most?
How do other people text you? Do you notice differences between how your parents text and how you and your friends text? Do you format messages differently based on the recipients?
The author writes that standard punctuation has been reinterpreted throughout history. How have you seen your generation experiment with grammar? In your opinion, which of your generation’s innovations should become a permanent part of the way we communicate? Which should we leave behind?
Students 13 and older are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public. You can find all our Student Opinion questions here.