Unlike most forms of communication (writing, speaking, singing), most of us were never taught to text. We just picked it up as we went along, and in so doing, never really learned any rules of the road — even the simple ones.
But there are texting manners, so whether you are texting a friend, romantic partner, colleague or boss, it pays to know what they are. Surveys say most people find that technology etiquette is worse now than even a few years ago, so we could all use a few texting tips. The point of manners isn't to force people to use silly rules, but to put together a set of ideas that we can all mostly agree on so we don't accidentally offend someone. Manners are all about better communication.
"The premise of etiquette and how we socialize with one another is not a new concept. Whenever we interact with another person directly or through the use of mobile technology, etiquette is a factor," says author and etiquette expert Anna Post of The Emily Post Institute in a news release. "We can all be more cognizant of how we use our mobile technology and how our usage may impact others around us — at home, in the office and whenever we are in public."
Don't text everywhere. Put your phone away in movie theaters, concert halls, when you are driving, while you are eating, while someone is sitting across from you at a meal or meeting or while placing an order at a cafe counter. Whether you text in the bathroom is up to you, but that's pretty gross. Emily Post clarifies: "Do not text message when you are involved in any type of social interaction — conversation, listening, in class, at a meeting or, especially, at the dinner table. If you really need to communicate with someone who is not at the event — or at the table — excuse yourself and then return as soon as you can." Putting your phone in your pocket or bag and keeping it there is really OK unless you have a real emergency like a sick relative or child.
Always proofread. I know, the point of texting is to be quick and efficient, but if you leave your autocorrect on for even faster typing, and then don't check your text before hitting "send," you're just asking to be embarrassed by an improper correction — which might make for hilarious online listicles, but could feel less funny when it happens to you. (I have just turned off my autocorrect, so any mistakes are minor ones. Here's how.)
Keep it short. If you want to write something longer, make a call or send an email (even if it's an email you write on your phone). It's difficult to reply to a long email via text, and the person responding may easily miss some important detail.
Minimize abbreviations. Yes, sometimes certain shorteners are wonderfully useful, but much of the time, they render a text unreadable. If you must, pick a handful that you use regularly, and stick to using just them — and only with friends and family. Especially with bosses, colleagues or others who don't know you well, opt to take an extra 5 seconds to compose a text with full words and sentences.
Watch your tone. Be extra-careful that a text isn't misconstrued. It can happen pretty easily. Use polite words, like "please" and "thanks" and avoid using sharp or hard words, curse words, or texting in all caps. Keeping things upbeat comes across as normal to the reader, whereas a sentence that would be completely normal if spoken can come across easily as "mean."
Don't send group texts. Many people don't realize that they are replying to everyone when they respond to group texts, and it gets really annoying, really fast (not to mention eating up a potentially limited text plan) to get a bunch of texts in reply to a message you may not have opted to receive. Communicate directly with people, even if it means sending a few texts or, if you are making plans — send an email. The only time I ever use a group text is to loop in a third person to a conversation, and even then, sparingly.
Do end text conversations. Unless you have a regular back-and-forth with a friend that's an everyday thing, it's always a good idea to sign off on a text message, as you would with any other conversation, like in person, via email or on the phone. (Unless you are a character on "Seinfeld." They were famous for not ending phone calls with a goodbye.) It's satisfying — and less confusing — to know that a conversation has ended.
Don't text things that are private or confidential. Just picture it: The person you are texting has gone to the bathroom, is in another room finding the cat, or is paying the pizza delivery guy when your text comes in. The images or words are lit up for a few moments for anyone else in the room to see. While texting feels private, it often isn't. Even if the person you are communicating with doesn't show your message to anyone, others may easily see it.
Do reply to mis-sent text. This can be a tricky one, but the solution is quite simple: "If you receive a text message that was sent to you by mistake, reply explaining that you aren’t the intended recipient. You don’t have to respond to anything else in the message," advises the Emily Post institute. If you are sending a text to someone who doesn't know you, give a brief introduction ("Hi, I'm Emily, friend of Dan Smith. He wanted you to have this email address for a British history notes contact").
Err on the side of being more formal. It will never get you in trouble in life to go a more formal route when interacting with people you don't know very well. This is especially true if you don't know the age of the person you are texting, or if they are a professor, boss or other person in position of power. It's likely that you will get to a point where you can be less formal once you know them, but you can never go the other way — starting off informally and then going backwards.
Want some texting advice specifically for dating? Check out this realistic and helpful video:
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- 6 teens invent ways to stop dangerous texting
- Texting, email and spellcheckers might be causing our language to shrink