Informal vs. Formal Texting Confusion

Posted by Megan Stein

“OMG gurl, thats totes insane. Call me l8er for deets.” If you are anything like me, these are the kinds of text messages that drive you up the wall. What’s worse? When you get a text message like that from your dad. In years past, people choose to speak to each other in a formal or informal way depending on their relationship. But, in this day and age people seem to think it is acceptable to speak to anyone, in any way they feel. The above text? That’s not ok to send to your boss. In fact, it really isn’t ok to send to anyone with an IQ above 50. What are we doing to ourselves? Are our texts, e-mails, tweets, etc. muddling our minds into thinking these kinds of conversations are ok.

An article from GrammarGirloutlines some basic dos and don’ts for the online conversation world, and I agree with what she says for the most part. However, at one point she poses the question, “Is a text message to your boss a formal or informal communication?” and encourages readers to use their better judgment to make that decision. The article continues to describe the use of Twitter and how that, for the most part, is an informal situation allowing conversational and laid back tones as well as abbreviations. Well, wait. Don’t future employers look at our Twitter? Don’t they check out our Facebook and Google search us before considering hiring us? Now I’m confused.

Students get confused about what is and is not appropriate. Photo courtesy of Google.

On a personal level, tweets, texts or anything for that matter with obnoxious abbreviations make me want to toss my phone in the trash and give up on humanity. But at the end of the day, is it really our fault that this language is so common? As a college student, I am often confused about formal vs. informal situations and can see how my peers would be the same. Is sending a teacher a formal e-mail necessary anymore? The rules need to be re-written and the confusion needs to end so no one gets unfairly punished. Now lies the question, who’s job is it to figure all this out? Well, as the college generation of today, I think the responsibility falls on us.

What situations confuse you about whether or not they should be formal or informal? Have you had an experience where you thought you could be informal and were punished for it?

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4 responses to “Informal vs. Formal Texting Confusion

  1. This is a great topic that needs to be addressed. First of all, I agree: People shouldn’t be talking like this anyway. However, we all know that’s not going to change, so it depends on which medium you’re using.

    If you’re on Facebook, I think you can be more informal since your audience is your group of friends/family. (Another question: Should you be friends with your bosses/coworkers?) With Twitter, I can see it either way; we need to remember that (for the most part) our tweets can be ready by everyone, so we should write the way we want people to perceive us, even if that’s hard in 140 characters. In email and text messages though, I definitely feel we need to be formal in our communication with our superiors, especially if the messages are work-related.

  2. Emily - Drake University

    Personally, I always try to type with correct grammar and punctuation. On Facebook and Twitter – even in text messages. I was taught to email formally, and this has always stuck with me.

    It’s a little unnerving to receive a sloppy email from a professor, or worse, one with a misspelling. But I think this perpetuates our confusion: if our superiors don’t proofread their emails, their power points, should we? I think the best answer is to type formally unless explicitly instructed that it isn’t necessary. I mean, it’s not that hard. Everything has spellcheck nowadays. I think it’s better to be too formal than too casual.

  3. I think people have to use their better judgment, like GrammarGirl said. I’m not so sure that rules must be established but that common sense must prevail. I completely agree that using formal or informal writing should depend on the relationship the sender has with the receiver. But I can’t support writing like the hypothetical speaker of your first sentence in any context. It’s okay to send quick messages to friends and family without checking them, but when it comes to employers and professionals, make sure you know where you stand. If you don’t know, be formal. As for being punished because of informal writing, that’s not right either. Everyone, employer or not, should know that people have lives outside of work and that no one is perfect all the time. It’s almost a pity that employers have begun to look in on social media sites like Facebook; the prospect of an employer looking over your shoulder really limits the fun aspects that Facebook began with. Social media seems to have become less social and more of a tool employers can use against you.

  4. In high school I worked at a locally owned Italian restaurant. The owners were just 9 years older than me and the communication was informal. At one point my boss would text us when shifts needed to be filled. She expected us to do the same if we couldn’t come in at our scheduled time. This type of communication made me uncomfortable, despite the small age difference. But, the informal manner was reflected in our work environment. Although I don’t agree that external communication should mirror the level of formality in the workplace, that seems to be the direction our society is headed.

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