THE BLOG

A Much-Needed Guide to Text Etiquette

01/15/2013 04:20 pm ET | Updated Mar 17, 2013

Texting can play an instrumental role in communication, but it can also be rude and distracting depending on the context. Regardless, it has become so ingrained in our culture -- even my mother-in-law sends texts -- that we can't expect it will go away any time soon. What we can do is learn to manage our texting habits so that we can avoid hurt feelings and confusion among friends and loved ones. The rules can be tricky; there is a fine line between what's appropriate and what's not, and sometimes it's hard to tell where exactly to draw that line. Read below for some definitive guidelines on what I call "Textiquette." And, be sure to add your own texting dos and don'ts to the comments below.

Embrace the art of the mini mass text. It's OK to mass text universal messages that a group of people in your phone will surely appreciate. For example, you can't go wrong with "Happy Holidays." Still, mass texting doesn't mean you have to send your text to every single contact in your phone. If you're anything like me, half the people in your phone are business or professional contacts and include the representative who sold your company new computers two years ago who doesn't exactly need your merry wishes. And your general practitioner, as much as he might like you, doesn't need to be in on your intimate affairs either. So chose your recipients carefully.

  • Mass texting that you just got engaged, for instance, is A-OK if you're sending it to a specific group of your 20 closest friends and family members.
  • Mass texting a reminder about your art opening or other event (after formal invitations or evites have already been sent) is fine as well.

Textiquette Dos

  • If you are running late, text to let the person you are meeting know that you're on your way. You get bonus points for giving an estimated time of arrival.
  • If it's your friend that's running late, use the extra few minutes of down time to respond to any texts that may have appeared in your inbox on your commute over. That way when your friend arrives, you can be fully present.
  • Always double check your text before hitting the send button. We have all seen some tragic auto-correct mishaps that can easily be avoided by taking two seconds to proofread.
  • Make sure to verify who you are sending your text to. Unfortunately, when we write about people in text messages, we aren't always -- ahem -- praising their best qualities, and you would hate to send it to them accidentally.
  • If you are waiting to hear about something pressing, let your guest know so that when you check your phone regularly, you don't seem rude. And let them know when the situation is dealt with so they know that they now have your full attention.
  • If you're texting someone you haven't spoken to in a long time and the thought crosses your mind that you might not be in their phone, you're probably right. Avoid getting back a text that says, "Sorry, new phone. Who is this"? and simply "sign" your text, or open with a friendly reminder of who you are.
  • Slightly different than the mass text is the group text; which is one sent to a small group of people when plans are being made. Do yourself a favor and make sure that everyone in the group has this function on their phones. My husband has an old iPhone, and while he can receive group texts, he can only respond to the sender and confusion inevitably ensues.

Textiquette Don'ts

  • Don't confuse someone who you've been on only a few casual dates with by including them in mass texts. It can get awkward, fast.
  • Don't text while eating or drinking with others unless you can talk about what you're texting, or it's an emergency. If it's the latter, excuse yourself and handle the situation.
  • Never text while another person is speaking, unless it is extremely important. If you do have to text, offer a brief explanation immediately so you don't hurt their feelings. Consider excusing yourself if you don't want to share your private details.
  • Texting a "thank you" note is not OK. You should always call, send a physical card via snail mail or send an e-card.
  • Never text, "Let me get back to you" when someone asks you to do something within the next 24 hours. It's best to decline if you aren't sure. You can always try to join up later if you change your mind.
  • If you're going back and forth with your friend trying to make plans and you're both being indecisive, save yourself the time and trouble and call them.
  • Don't use LOL and other text slang when it doesn't make sense. Consider who you're texting because many people don't have a clue what ROTFL or SMH mean.
  • Don't use text slang unless you know what it means, either. I knew someone who thought LOL stood for "lots of love" rather than "laugh out loud," so when he repeatedly texted LOL to his friend whose father had died, you can imagine the friend's dismay.
  • If you are tempted to text while walking, don't do it. Step to the side and text out of harms (and other people's) way.
  • Don't text somebody you know is driving. You do not want to be responsible for them getting in an accident. And, for that matter, don't text while you are driving!
  • Don't ever text about death or serious illness. Conversations like these require emotion, nuance, and support. They are too fragile to risk being misunderstood or accidentally skipped over.

We've all probably had at least one texting mishap we wish we could take back or forget. What texting crime have you sworn you would never again commit, or what offense have you been on the receiving end of that you hope no one else ever has to be?

Dana Holmes is a lifestyle, gift and etiquette expert who acts as Editor in Chief of Gifts.com and the Gift Rap Blog. She has been working in trend forecasting and gift recommendations for the past decade. Dana loves making occasions special with her unique gift ideas, tips and touches. She has been interviewed by the New York Times, Associated Press, Fox & Friends, TODAY in NY and many more.