How to use emojis, the lingua franca of the digital world

Written language has always had the drawback of not expressing emotion easily. What can be shown with just a few muscle movements in a face might take a sentence or two to convey in words. What can be conveyed in a millisecond in life can take many seconds in print.

dozens of emojis

Filling this deficiency in words are emojis, pictographs used in digital writing.  They give writers the ability to convey emotion without using a thesaurus to find the specific word; they give young people who rely on broad, nonspecific terms a way to express a more specific meaning quickly and accurately.

If you, like me, are not fluent in emojis, how can you become fluent in this new pictorial way of writing? According to Jonna Stern of the Wall Street Journal, there are three steps.

  • First, familiarize yourself with the emojis which are part of your cell phone. On my iPhone’s text messaging keyboard, at the bottom there is a smiley face. If I click on it, I access pages of emojis. Scroll through the emojis on your phone to become familiar with what ones are there and what they might mean. Not sure? Go to or ask a fifth grader.
  • Next, realize that using emojis works best for expressing emotions or for giving a quick response (e.g., thumbs up, thumbs down). Try including one or two in your texts, adding to the variety you use the same way you would add new words to your vocabulary.
  • Last, Stern suggests you get a good emoji keyboard. (It’s much like graduating from a children’s dictionary to an adult one.) For the iPhone, she suggests checking out emoji++ or keymoji available at the App Store. For androids, she suggests SwiftKey.

Whether we like emojis or not, they are here to stay. If kids are using them in text messaging, you can be sure they will eventually use them in their writing. But how about in their academic writing? Do emojis have a place in a third grade paragraph on Paul Revere or in a sixth grade pro/con essay on wearing school uniforms?

Maybe not today, but in the future I predict we will see emojis accepted in academic writing. Electronics are changing our world. Why not our writing?

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