Business Writing

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Syntax Training | Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

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April 20, 2006


Cynthia Clay

Since you asked, I find smiley faces annoying myself. But, I confess, I've used them before if I want to be certain that someone knows I'm making a small joke in an email. It's so easy to create misunderstanding unintentionally. I like the suggestion to use them after someone has included one in their email to me first.


Greetings and thanks. I enjoyed reading and learning from this site.

On using smiley faces: I think when you know the person you are writing to and know that he or she enjoys "some warmth" and humor, it's totally okay to use a simple face somewhere in your email like this :)
but only in the email, because other letters can be passed on to number of people at the client site. They might think that you are not serious enough when they see your "smile". I do use a face from time to time in some of my emails but not with clients that I just started work with.


I agree with your established "rule" about not including them unless you get one first in a business email. However, I enjoy using them in informal emails because they convey emotion (hence the name) where email fails to do that. At times written email can, unfortunately, convey messages other than what we intended. I once engaged in an intense argument with a friend - only she was joking! The argument was abruptly resolved when she called me laughing - a final message from me had made her wonder whether we were on the same page.

With that said, a simple ;) or :) is acceptable. I shy away from bouncing, animated smileys - you know the ones - that link through HTML tags. They are definitely distracting and annoying and never appropriate for business.


Suzanne and Heather, thanks very much for your opinions. Another aspect of this question is that many people still read their email in plain text. If we include HTML smiley faces for plain text readers, they will not see what we intended and may see something that doesn't make sense. So much for warming up the communication!

Margaret Elwood

I use smiley faces occasionally in internal e-mail messages to clarify and add warmth to the tone. In our company we have typically have great longevity of employment, and the strength of my relationships with other employees simply helps get my job done efficiently and well. While I don't rely on emoticons, I use them now and then when writing a co-worker because I think they confirm my friendly tone in case there is any question of it. :) My use of it just now is meant to say, "I'm not cranky about this point."


Wow! Can a smiley face really say "I'm not cranky about this point"? In any case, most people who have talked with me about this subject have agreed with you, Margaret. Although I am still a holdout, one day I may just need to learn how to make emoticons.


Simply said, in a business environment, when discussing a difficult issue via email, the emoticon conveys that while you may be looking for resolution to the issue, you are not seriously upset about the issue. A great example is a reminder to an employee that they've forgotten to do something. You send them the reminder to get resolution. You include the smiley face to let them know you are not at all upset about their forgetfulness. Without the smiley face or some additional wording that may be awkward, they might think that you are upset about their forgetfulness. The smiley face makes it clear in a very concise manner. Thoughts? :o)


Hi, Tony. This is a fine illustration of the right place for smiley faces. Although I am not yet going to use them, given my preference for words, I can see their value in situations like the one you described.

Thanks for joining the conversation.



I believe that the smiley face can mean too many things; it honestly is easier and more straightforward to just say what one means.

A smiley could mean:
- That the writer wants resolution on a point but is not upset,
- That a phrase was meant to be humorous,
- An expression of warmth and candor,
- A clue that something is meant to be a sarcastic or ironic remark,
- A magnification of an emotion expressed in the sentence, or
- A mark to indicate that a phrase is something for one to ponder or think about.

To me, this is becoming too much for one poor smiley face to do. Plus, I think the ubiquitous use of smiley faces is gradually diminishing the quality of business writing on the whole. People are not learning to say what they mean, but using the smiley face as an excuse. Younger people, including high school and college students, are really using smiley faces to an extreme. I open several emails per day with smiley faces; frankly, I miss real, heartier conversations, with actual words.

I think smileys belong only:
- In very casual conversations, such as instant messages or "love notes" between partners/friends,
- In salutations to indicate a smile on greeting the reader, and
- In concluding remarks to indicate a smile or hug upon taking leave of the reader.

Just my humble opinion.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

John, thanks for your interesting opinions. I agree with you in many respects.

Your recommendation for "smileys" in greetings and closes surprised me. You seem to be adding opportunities for the emoticons to be used. I rarely see smileys in those places now, but I see them everywhere else in messages.

When someone says "Hi, Lynn" or "Dear Lynn," I can see their smile. And when they say, "See you soon!" I feel their warmth. I do not need a smiley face in those places.

I am glad you commented.


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