Use of Emoticons in E-mail to Convey Emotion
When drafting an e-mail message, many senders are aware that their text may be confusing or easily misunderstood. To help minimize misunderstandings and miscommunication during e-mails, senders will often use their own form of nonverbal cues to convey meaning and emotion. This often comes in the form of emoticons. Dresner & Herring (2010) define emoticons as illocutionary acts, which is the performance or act in saying something. The line could be a request, a refusal or a complaint. Rezabek and Cochenour (1998) define it as “visual cues formed from ordinary typographical symbols that when read sideways represent feeling or emotions” (p. 201). In simpler terms, emoticons are graphical representations using standard keyboard keys. They are meant to express human faces or gestures. Examples of this include :) smiling, ;-) a wink, or :( frowning/sadness. There are hundreds of emoticons that can be used, and several variations of all of them, including the ones previously identified.
When using computer-mediated communication individuals “attempt to compensate for the lack of the usual nonverbal components by the employment of emoticons” (Krohn, 2004, p. 322). Work by Lea & Spears (1992) and Tidwell & Walther (2002 as cited by Byron & Baldridge, 2007) indicates that e-mail users will actively search for information about the sender and use any available cues to form judgments about the individual and the message. Using emoticons helps receivers to form these judgments. This is the basis of research done by Kiesler & Sproull (1992 as cited by Menchik & Tian, 2008)
‘Social context cues theory’ is based on the assertion that computer-mediated
communication lacks equivalent cues to those available in face-to-face contexts,
such as facial expressions, body language and tone of voice. (p.336).
Without this visual cues, receivers will use any available cues that they may have. The available cues could include word choice and e-mail structure, which the sender may or may not have realized would be used as cues.
Another similar theory that relates to this is the media richness theory. The theory is based on “the number of cue systems available within” (Walther, 1992, p. 56) a given media and “as the ability of information to change understanding within a time interval” (Draft & Lengel, 1986, p. 560 as cited by Walther, 1992, p. 58). This theory says that individuals should use the richest possible communication medium to communicate their message. Face-to-face communication is seen as the strongest because it is tailed to the individual receiver. Unaddressed documents, such as posters, are seen as the weakest because they are generalized and give very limited information. The optimal richness level for some subjects is face-to-face communication, while another may be a poster. Senders need to send their message over the most effective and richest form of communication available. Senders...