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With the release of a new crop of emojis—including the taco, the middle finger, and the unicorn—Apple has exploded the possibilities for pictorial communication. Read on to learn whether there’s ever a right time to slip an emoji or emoticon into your business email.

Until the next tip!
Dianne Rosky

Does This Emoticon Make My Writing Look Unprofessional?

Who or whom?

Yes. But that may be okay once in a while.

Emoticons, like multiple exclamation points, can undermine a writer’s professionalism. But let’s dig a little deeper before declaring on outright ban on emoticons in business emails. 

In our world of disembodied emails and relentless time pressures, an emoticon can convey warmth and connection. According to the New York Times, the occasional well-placed smiley can be just the thing for a work email:

Lisa M. Bates, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia, has embraced the smiley —albeit “sparingly and strategically,” she said. “Basically, I’m often sarcastic and in a hurry, and a well-planted smiley face can take the edge off and avoid misunderstanding.” 

And the Huffington Post has referred to smiley faces in emails as a “necessary evil." The rationale is that you’re better off risking being perceived as a bit silly than coming across as a humorless automaton. 

But tread lightly. Don’t use emoticons when writing to very senior colleagues or clients, or anyone with whom you don’t have a personal connection.  

And choose the right emoticon for the occasion: given lawyers’ need for precision, these more nuanced emoticons offered up by Mental Floss might be more useful than generic smiley and frowny faces. 

Perhaps  <*)))-{  could become the modern way of indicating that your adversary's argument doesn't pass the smell test.  ;)

Let us know your take!  


Emoticon map from Mental Floss.
Emotion mask found at

Hat tip to Legal Writing Prof Blog, via Legal Blog Watch.

Need speech coaching? Meet Margret Surovell, our lead communications coach.
Keep an eye out—next week, we’ll be sending out an offer for a free one-on-one session with Margret.   
Recommended resource

If you need help deciphering emojis and emoticons, check out these two sites:  Emojipedia offers a frighteningly thorough explanation and history of emojis the world over. And SlangIt translates emoticons into English. Did you know that :-J means tongue in cheek?    

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