New Punctuation for Digital Communication

Posted on June 12, 2012


Social networking and digital web-based media are creating a new set of unsuspecting creatives: People who never kept journals or wrote letters are now published authors in these new media. And these electronic authors are publishing to a worldwide audience. Amazingly, we are able to communicate in this new, integrated territory with relatively little difficulty. There is one thing that has proven difficult in electronic literature: conveying intent, motivation, or emotion. Text messages, email, and social networking exchanges are some of the most frequently misunderstood pieces of electronic writing. For example, an email writer’s internal monologue may be dripping with sarcasm, but the reader cannot see sarcasm in type. This has resulted in enough misunderstandings that people developed emoticons and acronyms to convey intent. Now if a writer wants his audience to know he is delivering a line of text in a humorous way, he can finish the line with a “winky,” which looks like this:

; )

Or he could use the acronym “LOL,” which stands for “Laughing Out Loud.”

Web acronyms and emoticons are not acceptable in academia or peer reviewed publications. They are also not typically used in fiction. This is likely due to one big difference between a writer who is trained to offer a rich context and character development for the reader and a blogger whose ambition may simply be to get his thoughts out in 50 words or less. Emoticons and acronyms have become accepted forms of our language, whether we like them or not. Acronyms are effective at conveying emotion, but they don’t translate into multiple languages. Emoticons are effective and understandable in any language since they are pictoral in nature. Neither emoticons or acronyms are expected or accepted in professional and academic communications, but more professional and academic communications are taking place online, in web-based environments. It is because of this dichotomy that I propose the adoption of tone/intention/emotion marks, including adding them to a standard qwerty keyboard. I suggest the use of diacritics, or accent marks, placed above existing punctuation marks much like letters receive accents to allow the reader to understand the writer’s intended emphasis. This form of punctuation would be acceptable in web-based work communications, advertising, and mobile communication.

Here are a few examples of tone/intention/emotion marks (forgive me for being format-challenged):

sarcasm / humour / irony

Acute accented question mark, exclamation point and full stop (period). Note how the accent resembles the “wink” of an emoticon, to imply a cheeky intent.

suggestion / idea / goodhearted

Breve accented question mark, exclamation point, and full stop (period). Note how this accent resembles the “smile” of an emoticon. Its job is to imply a goodhearted intent.

anxious / concern / doubt

Dot accented question mark, exclamation point, and full stop (period). This single dot implies there is a serious tone to the statement.


Punctuation accents can be used over all conclusion punctuation marks: full stop, exclamation, and question. This mark of intent, like a grain of salt, will be a subtle addition to current punctuation, and will not draw attention away from the text like an emoticon or acronym does. Because of this subtlety, readers and writers alike will quickly gain confidence and fluency with the new marks. In all three above groups, the mark does not relate to only the word directly above it. In the last group suggesting anxiousness, concern, and doubt, a dot-accent question mark can mean doubt OR concern OR anxiousness.

I’ve chosen to use this blog entry to release this idea and see if the new media audience would embrace it with me. I’ll be happy to receive your comments and suggestions.