Have you ever found yourself typing “LOL” when writing to a client or employee and then decided against it? Are you unsure about using emoticons, abbreviations, or truncated sentences when sending emails or texts from your phone?

With today’s high speed messaging—email, status updates, instant messages, texts—many people are asking whether there’s now a place for breaking traditional grammar rules in business communication. Are emoticons, abbreviations, and truncated sentences ever appropriate at work?

A recent Wall Street Journal article discussed the pros and cons of “Cyber-English,” the digital strain of language that has evolved as people attempt to compress their messages into fewer words. While some grammarians may decry this evolution of the mother tongue, loosened language may be helpful in some cases. A shortened sentence from your iPhone can save time for both the sender and the receiver, and an occasional emoticon can be one way to add a personal touch.

Following are a few guidelines we’d recommend for using Cyber-English without losing your credibility as a professional.

  • Abbreviations for long or complicated terms or phrases are acceptable. However, you should identify the abbreviation the first time you use it, even if you think it should be already known.
  • Avoid acronyms or initialisms that include profanity. If it’s inappropriate to spell it out (as profanity in business communications almost always is), then you shouldn’t use the shortened version either. Anyone familiar with the phrase will know what you’re saying, and anyone who isn’t familiar with it will just be confused.
  • When communicating from your smartphone or another device which makes typing difficult, it’s acceptable to use truncated sentences. Most clients wouldn’t mind reading “Meeting at 8:00 tomorrow morning,” rather than, “The meeting we discussed in our last conversation will begin at 8:00 a.m. on Wednesday, June 20.”
  • Some smartphone users include a disclaimer of sorts in their email signature, such as, “Sent from my wireless device,” letting people know the email was sent while on the go. This is an easy way to explain why your message may be truncated; just don’t allow it to be an excuse for poor spelling or a confusing response.
  • If you know you don’t have the ability to type a clear message at the moment, send a quick note saying you’ll write later. Then, when you have the chance, write a full message with standard English. Most people would rather wait than be given a message that’s shortened to the point of confusion.
  • Finally, think of your purpose for writing before you use anything that strays from language standards. It may be okay to use an emoticon at the end of an informal note to a client, yet it’s never appropriate to use one in your client’s contract. When in doubt, use proper English; it’s better to sound too formal than to sound sloppy.

As with all your business writing, your first goal should be to communicate clearly and professionally, not to save time. If Cyber-English allows you to do both, then IMHO, it’s probably okay.