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“Smile for the journal 🙂 Emoticons and their use in online publishing”

In January 2014, I took a university course (with a different but credible institution) to get my certificate to teach online college courses; naturally, the class was online. In the first module, we were taught about “netiquette”, the proper manners for communicating with others in an online service or forum.[1] For example, the professor showed us how to USE CAPITALS WHEN MAKING A POINT, which I understood and accepted. i also understood how using abbr, as when txting or typos, wood take away from ur argument. However, he taught other points, such as the use emoticons to display our emotions to our students, which I was at first skeptical about. For me, the instructor’s constant use of “:)” and “:(” made the course seem unprofessional and I viewed the feedback as unauthentic. I understand where the professor was coming from, but it did not resonate well with me.
            As the Chief Reviews Editor with Hortulus, the experience made me reflect on how I incorporate emotions in feedback in our reviews process, since I rarely meet in person with my reviewers. So I did my research and was surprised at what I found. First, emoticons have been in use for over 31 years.[2] The first emoticon in an online forum was used in a message board about a fake mercury spill at Carnegie Mellon University. The faculty there used the emoticon to differentiate real messages from jocular content in the forum. Although it is hard to pinpoint the first use of an emoticon in written English, the earliest example might be an 1862 transcript of a speech President Lincoln wrote.[3] Needless to say, emoticons have a much longer history than I expected. As I kept researching, I found that major publishing houses, such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Houston Chronical have printed issues on this new incorporation of emoticons in the business and professional world.[4] So perhaps I was behind the times, as might also be reflected in the fact that I still use a “dumb” phone. Nevertheless, I am still skeptical and have used other means to display my feedback for reviews, which is the point of this brief entry. In what follows, I will state what I use at Hortulus to give feedback, which I have found successful thus far.
           First, as a Chief Reviews Editor, I made a hierarchy of status updates, which I stick closely to when giving feedback; they are subpar, poor, decent, ok, good, great, excellent, tremendous, and perfect. In giving feedback, I really think that being warm and direct is best. Giving the right level of feedback is crucial or else something might get lost in translation. For example, if I tell a reviewer that their piece is perfect in an email but attach a draft for revisions that has thirty in-depth comments and numerous grammatical corrections, confusion or minimal edits could ensure, as I have witnessed first-hand. The same is true for the opposite scenario – negativity for a stellar review could result in a reviewer pulling their piece mid-process, as I have heard from colleagues but not experienced personally. Thus, honesty is the best policy and I have a rubric that I use to give feedback. I have found that reviewers that receive the appropriate amount of feedback are more likely to make the proper edits and meet their deadlines.
            Second, I try to prove a personal message with every email response. For example, I try to comment in emails on particular phrases or wordings that I found superb from the reviews. I also like to ask “How is your semester coming along?” and similar questions to open my emails. I do this for two reasons. First, I do this to establish professional relationships with my reviewers. Since I have taken this position, I have met three of my reviewers in person at conferences and other academic events, which has always made the occasions more enjoyable for us all. Secondly, I do this in order to understand their schedules. For example, if reviewers reply saying a family event has them swamped this weekend or that they are giving a major presentation soon (as some do), then I try to accommodate their busy schedules in our deadlines if I have leeway. Naturally, most reviewers do not reply to these opening questions, while others state something neutral like “all is well here.” But, I find that giving people the opportunity to open up or state any conflicts they have as very beneficial in getting reviewers to meet their deadlines and to make the process less stressful.
           The internet has often been criticized as being a “faceless forum”, where many openly attack one another, hiding behind false identities.[5] Some people use emoticons to take the ambiguity away from their joking/unprofessional messages, however, I do not. Although my tactics in employing emotions in feedback are not perfect, I think my use of a strict hierarchy of statuses, proving direct and warm feedback, and opening emails with a personal greeting are steps in the right direction. These steps keep my feedback straightforward and positive. Moreover, I have enjoy the personal touches as my time as Chief Reviews Editor. However, I am open and eager to hear what others do. Please let us know what you do in giving feedback in emails. Feel free to use an emoticon if you want. 😉

[1]For the rules of Netiquette, see the official network website at http://www.networketiquette.net/.
[2] Houston, Keith, “Smile! A History of Emoticons” The Wall Street Journal (27 September 2013).
[3] Houston 2013.
[4] Newman, Judith, “If You’re Happy and You Know It, Must I Know, Too?” The New York Times (21 October 2011); Vulcan, Nicole, “How Should the Use of Emoticons be Conveyed in Business Communication?” The Houston Chronicle.
[5] Milman, David, “Schoolyard bullies branch out over the Internet,” Computer World (20 October 2010).