March 15, 2008


Smiley faces don’t belong in your business e-mails. Neither do acronyms that create confusion. They look unprofessional and way too casual. That’s our topic this time.

“Emoticons” is the term applied to the various combinations of punctuation used to express emotion and to the actual icons of little faces displaying various states of happiness or distress. For example, : - ) indicates happiness, while : - O is supposed to suggest surprise.

Using these things is perfectly all right if you’re sending an e-mail to a good friend, to a child, or to a message board where you anonymously post your feelings about your favorite sports team or somebody’s chocolate cheesecake recipe. For instance, if you want to show that the quarterback’s performance in last week’s game made you sick, stick in the green, queasy-looking face. It’s kind of cute.

But don’t put emoticons in your business e-mails, please. They’re inappropriate.

The same goes for cryptic abbreviations and acronyms. Recently a colleague of mine in the U.K. sent me an e-mail in which he wrote:

The client would like you to pencil in last the two weeks of September, if possible, to run another program for them. I will meet next week to discuss their plans, which are firming up. Can you as a first step, let me know WRT September?

I let him know which dates in September were open, but I had to ask him what “WRT” means. I felt a little stupid, but I couldn’t figure it out. He wrote back:

WRT: With Respect To!

Okay. Now I felt really dumb. But at least I knew what the acronym meant.

What if I hadn’t been a good friend and colleague, but rather a customer. Would I have asked for a definition? Probably not.

What about you? Are you certain your recipient knows what LOL means? What about IMHO? Or YMMV?

If you do a lot of instant messaging or hang out on MySpace, you’re probably rolling your eyes at me. These acronyms are the lingua franca of the on-line world, a staple of the vocabulary of the IM crowd. But I have to confess that for quite awhile I thought LOL meant “lots of luck.” As a result, I often couldn’t quite grasp what the writer meant by using that term. Often it appeared to be ironic. Imagine my surprise to learn it actually means “laugh out loud”.

(If you’re as clueless as I am about these acronyms, you can find a helpful list of definitions for Internet acronyms on Wikipedia at .)

For help in writing clearly and persuasively, contact us. We have a staff of trained persuasive writers who can cut through the toughest assignments quickly and professionally. And when we’re done, the only emoticons you’ll want to use are the ones expressing happiness and outstanding customer satisfaction. (I think that’s the smiley face with the bracket, but I’m not sure.)

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