MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
How many times of your teachers or editors told you every word counts? Now it turns out that every character you send counts, too. It turns out that the best way to punctuate a message - a text message - may be not at all. Let us explain. Researchers at Binghamton University in Binghamton, N.Y., have found that ending your text with a period - full stop - may make you seem more insincere. Professor Celia Klin is going to tell us more about that. Professor Klin, welcome.
CELIA KLIN: Thank you. It's good to be here.
MARTIN: So you and your colleagues decided to take a look at how people receiving texts reacting to punctuation, specifically the period. Why did you want to take a look at that?
KLIN: We became intrigued with the idea of looking at text messages and asking if the way that people understand text messages might be different than the way we understand more traditional forms of print, of writing.
MARTIN: And you found that a period made students feel that the text message was less sincere than if it contained no punctuation - something that did not occur with a handwritten note. Why do you think that is?
KLIN: Our sense was that because they were informal and had a chatty kind of feeling to them, a period may have seemed stuffy, too formal. It gave it a feeling of being less sincere or not genuine.
MARTIN: What about other punctuation marks? Like, what about an exclamation point?
KLIN: It's a perfect question because we just ran that study last week. And what we found won't surprise you. And that is that the messages were perceived as more sincere than with no punctuation, which let us say that it's not just the use of punctuation. It was because of the period.
MARTIN: Now, this is NPR, so you know I'm going to ask about a semicolon, right?
KLIN: Oh, I hadn't anticipated that one.
KLIN: I don't know. I love the semicolon.
MARTIN: No semicolon research. No data on that.
KLIN: No data on that yet.
MARTIN: Let me ask you this, though. Why is sincerity the metric?
KLIN: Well, just in terms of caution of our conclusions - you know, our main conclusion was really that there is something about punctuation that seems to be used and understood in a different way than text messages - more than sort of the specific conclusion about the period and sincerity. So it was based to begin with on a hunch that it's a read in hostility or lack of sincerity. And our sense was that over-punctuating was one of the ways you kind of zing (ph) people when you're writing a text message.
MARTIN: That's interesting because many people think of writing as a way to slow your mind down a bit. What I think I'm hearing you say is that perhaps texts are actually more like verbal speech. Is that about right?
KLIN: Clearly, it's reading, but socially, in terms of the interpersonal exchange, it has a real conversational feel to it. And we know that in conversations, we have all these nonverbal kinds of cues we can use. And that's really a lot of the way we convey mood, emotion, emphasis, but we don't have those when we're texting. So if texting is sort of conversational, our question was, well, what do we do instead?
MARTIN: I do want to mention that your sample size was only 126 college students. So do you think that the findings might be different if you had sampled different age groups?
KLIN: It's certainly possible. This was a very modest study. You know, I think there's lots more out there that we could look at in terms of different types of texters, different types of text and so on.
MARTIN: So what's the bottom line here - is that your texts say more than you think they're saying?
KLIN: That's a beautiful bottom line. I'll go with that. I think texting being a relatively new medium - I think we're just starting to learn what kinds of cues people are picking up on, so we need to be kind to each other. How's that?
MARTIN: Well, Professor Klin, thank you - and that's with an exclamation point, by the way.
KLIN: (Laughter) OK. Oh, thank you. It was a pleasure.
MARTIN: Professor Celia Klin is an associate professor of psychology at Binghamton University in New York. The study we were talking about is called "Texting Insincerely: The Role Of The Period In Text Messaging." Professor Klin is one of the authors, and this study was published in Computers and Human Behavior.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.