When we text students, we want our messages to come off as friendly and approachable, while still keeping it professional. The goal is to reach and engage students - not make them laugh at our formality or our misguided attempts to use (what we think is) the cool text lingo. We wrestle between using “u” or “you,” “2” and “to,” “gr8” and “great”… but maybe we’re overthinking things. It turns out that the friendliness of text messages might come down to the simplest of punctuation marks: the period.
Celia Klin of Binghamton University recently led a research project to examine the non-verbal aspects of text conversations, such as tone. The research team showed 126 undergraduate students the same conversation in two different forms: handwritten notes and text messages. Conversations ended in either a period or no punctuation at all.
For the text message conversation, students interpreted the one with a period as less sincere than one followed by no punctuation. This didn’t happen with the handwritten notes - the period and lack of period were interpreted as similarly sincere. The effects of punctuation don’t stop with a period: follow up research suggests that exclamation points may make a text message seem more sincere than one without punctuation.
Punctuation has become such a vital part of text conversations because texting lacks many of the social cues used during face-to-face interactions, such as facial expression, tone of voice, and eye contact. In the research Klin states, “People obviously can’t use these mechanisms when they are texting. Thus, it makes sense that texters rely on what they have available to them - emoticons, deliberate misspellings that mimic speech sounds and, according to our data, punctuation.”
Texting has evolved into a language of its own, and like with any other language, we need to learn the basics first. Be mindful that a sentence that sounds great spoken aloud might not translate as well to a text message. Students are fluent in texting, so it’s OK to follow their lead when it comes to word choices and abbreviations; and when in doubt, end your messages on a high note with a well-placed exclamation point!