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For many of us, email and IM make up the majority of our professional communication. Sent quickly between deadline and meeting, there often isn’t time to think too hard about tone, not to mention you may not be writing in your native language. Sometimes a particularly blunt email arrives and you’re left vaguely wondering – have I done something wrong?

Even if we wanted to, we’re never going to find time in our workday to spend longer on mails and IM, but I do think an awareness of tone is important. We’re living in a time when even the humble full stop has become loaded with meaning in messages that we’re dashing off without a second thought.

So, what can we do? Researchers in Japan have looked at brain activity when we see an emoticon at the end of a sentence, finding that it stimulates an area that responds to personal emotional contact – the right inferior frontal gyrus. We read it as non-verbal information, in addition to the verbal information in the message itself.

Basically, by adding an emoticon to our messages we’re helping to add the emotional connection that is missing when we’re talking screen to screen rather than face to face.

Now, I’m a stickler for proper spelling and grammar – and I have never LOLed or ROFLed in my life – but I’m a big fan of adapting to new communication mediums so we get our message across properly. I’ll never add a smile to your press release or web copy, but if I’m emailing and it’s all good news? I’m more than happy to make that clear :)