Emojis Should Supplement Communications, Not Replace Them, Experts Say

And they're coming soon to Google Docs

  • Google recently showed off its new emoji reactions feature for Docs.
  • Some observers say that emojis are dumbing down communications. 
  • There’s a definite etiquette around using emojis.
World smile day emojis arrangement

Andrei Moldoveanu / 500px / Getty Images

Cue the eye roll emoji as Google Docs is the latest program to support the ubiquitous icons. 

The online word processing software is rolling out emoji reactions, allowing you to respond with a symbol rather than an entirely written comment. Many people agree that emojis are a handy way to express feelings, but some observers say emojis are dumbing down communications. 

"In the communications of some brands, we see that emojis are too much," communications professional Inna Ptitsyna told Lifewire in an email interview. "For example, when they begin to replace words and sentences rather than supplement the content. The primary function of emojis is to add other types of communication to the text that we are used to seeing instead of completely replacing the message."

Writing With Emojis

Emojis have long been used in text messages and are gaining popularity in business settings. Now, Google wants Docs users to have the option to insert emojis into word processing. 

In a Google Workspace Update, Google recently showed off its new emoji reactions feature for Docs. The program already gives you the option to insert emojis into the text of a document or a comment, but the latest feature lets you react directly to highlighted text using Google's sidebar. 

"Giving and receiving feedback is a key collaborative workflow in Google Docs," Google wrote on its blog. "The new emoji reactions feature provides a less formal alternative to comments to express your opinions about document content."

The value of emojis lies in their ability to let users express information in a way that's usually unavailable in text, Benjamin Weissman, a lecturer in the Department of Cognitive Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, told Lifewire in an email interview. Emojis can serve to integrate important elements of face-to-face communication, like facial expressions and gestures. 

"This capitalizes on a natural cognitive ability that humans have—to take information from multiple modalities (i.e., spoken language with our ears and facial expressions with our eyes) and integrate them seamlessly into a unified representation," Weissman explained. "Words are words, and emojis are pictures, but we can get information from both."

In certain contexts, emojis offer a less intrusive way to share emotion in a virtual setting. For example, the team behind CLIPr, a video analysis program, implemented emojis in the software as a kind of communications shortcut. 

"It's easy for participants to quickly express their feelings about a statement made midstream during a meeting and foster engagement between attendees," Humphrey Chen, the CEO of CLIPr, said in an email interview with Lifewire.

The Emoji Debate

Not everyone loves emojis, though. Natalia Brzezińska, a marketing manager, said in an email interview that the icons are often overused. 

"You don't need professional knowledge and experience to recognize spammy-looking emails or social media posts [overstuffed with] emojis," Brzezinska said. 

But Weissman said he's an emoji fan. "I would argue that emojis are actually enriching communication by providing an easy and conventionalized way to communicate information graphically," he added. 

Guy texting with smartphone sending emoticons

Artur Debat / Getty Images

On the other hand, even Weissman acknowledges that many emojis can be too much of a good thing. He noted that recent research has shown that sequences of emojis struggle to express grammatical relations like sequences of words do. 

"Of course, it is possible to gesticulate too much in communication to the point where it becomes distracting, so it would also be possible to use too many emojis in communication; in both cases, the onus would lie with the user, not the system," Weissman said. 

There's a definite etiquette around using emojis, even though it's not usually taught in classrooms. Ray Blakney, CEO of the online language school, Live Lingua, said in an email that you should be sure to use the right emoji when trying to convey a certain tone. For example, if your message was meant to be sarcastic, add in a laughing face. Also, don't use too many emojis in one message, as that can come off as excessive. 

"One strategically placed emoji would do just fine in conveying the exact message you are trying to share," Blakney said.

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