Student Signals

This post is cross-posted at the SFGate.com Community Site.

While the NYTimes has got people afraid to sign off in emails, I put some thought into how college students regard each other through electronic communication:

Grownups, as I like to call them, think that somehow students lack a gauge of formality and respect when it comes to electronic communication. For instance, signing off an email with “luv,” “xoxo,” or “cya” clearly won’t fly when contacting employers or even addressing school adminstrators. But I don’t think missteps in formality can be equated with a good grasp of language subtlety. If anything, I think students, growing up in the digital age, are particularly attuned to language, just in a different way.

Teenagers can read into electronic language like none other. The addition of a smiley icon, 🙂 , can mean the difference between angry and joking. A “jk” (just kidding) thrown into a conversation adds sarcasm. An elipsis (…) adds hesitation but also can be a continuation or even a planned awkward silence.

Obviously, students draw a lot on instant message (IM) language for email sign-offs, in particular. This is what is so abrupt for grownups. The IM language is short and direct, meant to be to the point. So when you get “cya” instead of “see you soon” or “luv” instead of “love,” don’t be alarmed. The student you’re conversing with really does mean well. That said, adept students will use their awareness in the IM world to translate into well formulated and signaled formal email messages to teachers and employers. If anything, students should adapt themselves well to a subtle world of grownup sign-offs.

Here’s what students should use with the grownups around campus:

“Thanks again” – friendly but to the point, to be used with adminstrators

“Best” – fairly formal, should be used for simple requests

“Sincerely” – very formal, only to be used in grantwriting and groveling to your teacher

“All the best” – a good holiday greeting to kindly wish teachers a good vacation

“Warmly” – reserved for a feel-good email with a professor you know well

I challenge you to send me an email: ryan dot kellett at gmail dot com and maybe, just maybe, I’ll sign my email with “peace,” a local Bay Area favorite.

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