JS Tip 103: From the Writing Workshops: The Effect of Texting

Our friend Joe Collet, of Lutheran Hour Ministries, asked about the effect texting has on the language: 

I saw a billboard in Phoenix that said: “UR $s @ work.” I drove for three miles before it dawned on me that it was an advertisement for a bank! We could be in real trouble here.

We could be.

Texting—or any other communication (like this billboard) based on texting—is more of a game than a communication.

Do you remember rebuses?

They were puzzles: You’d see a picture of an eye, plus a picture of a saw, plus the letter “U.” (“I saw you.” Tough one, huh?)

Rebuses were games we played as children. We’d solve the problem and congratulate ourselves for being so smart. It wasn’t a message; it was an entertainment. 

That’s the entertainment value of texting. (“Wow. I figured this out,” or “We’re writing in code so our parents won’t know. Hee hee.”)

And, just as rebuses have faded, texting gimmicks will fade as they outlive their cuteness. 

The Application to Business or Technical Writing

Be wary of mixing symbols with your text:

Verify the count & sign the receipt.

Whoops. Your reader’s brain has to translate the ampersand (the “&” symbol) into “and.” Avoid that step. Make it easier for your reader:

Verify the count and sign the receipt.

No extra step. No speed bump.

Profits rose 4%.

Dang. Speed bump. Your reader’s brain has to translate the numeral and the percentage sign into the words “four percent.” Avoid that step:

Profits rose four percent.

Let us know if you have questions. We love this stuff.