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In my business communication over Internet text messengers, for example Google Talk or Skype, I see that many people often use shorten words like u instead of you, r instead of are and the like.

How appropriate is usage of such words in contemporary communication? Is it used in emails also? Should we avoid it as much as possible?

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I think this question is a bit subjective. From the FAQ: "This is not a discussion board, this is a place for questions that can be answered!" "U" and "r" aren't English words and whether they're acceptable or should be avoided is context-dependent. You might not want to use them in your business plan but might feel comfortable sending an IM asking "r u hungry?" to a colleague. I don't think there's really a question to be answered here. –  markdrayton Aug 9 '10 at 21:16
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In that case a usage site should probably never have been set up, because there is almost never a factually correct answer to these things in the sense that there would be for, say, engineering questions. –  Alan Hogue Aug 10 '10 at 0:43
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Incidentally, an actual linguistics site was proposed, but I seriously doubt it will ever get enough support to get off the ground. –  Alan Hogue Aug 10 '10 at 0:45
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@markdrayton If we are to answer English questions with "the one true answer" there will be no answers. –  Vincent McNabb Aug 10 '10 at 3:40
    
This question reminded me of a chat where someone wrote “w8” and it took me a couple of minutes to understand what it meant. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Dec 21 '10 at 11:48

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up vote 30 down vote accepted

I think the first thing to say about this is that it’s always acceptable to avoid these abbreviations... even in the shortest, most intimate SMS or instant message, a fully-spelled-out you or are would never be seen as too formal.

That being said, if you are worried in the least that the person who you are corresponding with might think you are stupid, uneducated, or inappropriately informal, then using “u” or “r” in communication will give them an easy reason to believe that you are.

I would say I personally never use them, but that would be a lie. Sometimes in very hastily composed text messages on my phone I will take such a shortcut. But if I have a full (real) keyboard at my disposal and no 255-character limit, then there's no excuse for such sloppiness.

On the other hand, if your correspondent is using them there’s no reason other than personal pride why you shouldn’t use them back to facilitate the conversation.

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Yeah, this is good practical advice. –  Noldorin Aug 30 '10 at 13:33
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This is good advice. But I had a hard time with the amount of negation in the first paragraph. "never inappropriate to avoid... never unnecessarily formal..." –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Aug 30 '10 at 20:51
    
@Mr. Shiny - sorry about that. If you can suggest a clearer wording I will gladly change my answer to use it. –  nohat Aug 30 '10 at 23:18
    
I would have written "It's always ok to avoid...[snip]... fully-spelled-out words would never be seen as too formal", or something along those lines. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Aug 31 '10 at 19:27

Personally I would avoid shortcuts like "u" or "r" in any business emails (and in personal ones too actually). Depending on the recipient, they might make you seem more adolescent or even, um, less smart than you actually are.

At best, such shortcuts have no effect on how the recipient perceives you or the message. But considering that you do not really save time or anything else using them (when you are composing an email with a real keyboard, that is), is it worth taking the risk?

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I think it also makes it harder to read, when the recipient has to stop at "r" and recognise that the writer meant "are" - that wastes the reader's time. You should optimise for readability when there are no space constraints. –  njd Aug 11 '10 at 9:15
    
@njd, agreed, very good point. –  Jonik Aug 11 '10 at 11:32

The question of whether a certain usage is appropriate depends entirely on what the audience expects. Look around you, and if most people are using it and don't seem to disapprove of such abbreviations, feel free to use them. Conversely, if typing out full words is not much trouble to you, feel free to avoid them — especially if you suspect that even one person is going to have a slightly negative reaction to them (which is likely).

I think they are perfectly acceptable in IM and text messages for informal conversations (e.g. between friends), and possibly more formal (text messenger) conversations as well, in certain contexts. I don't use them myself, because I can type fast enough and it would actually take me more time to pause and consider which abbreviations to use, but I accept that some others are used to these abbreviations, and after years of having a negative reaction to them, can successfully parse them at normal speed these days!

For emails sent to many recipients, or messages posted online where they will be read by many readers, it is always worth making your writing clear: your little time improving text is worth less than the little extra time many readers would take to stumble over unfamiliar usage. Avoiding such abbreviations is then part of such general etiquette.

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ShreevatsaR makes a great point here: If you are going to use them (and my own answer on this topic goes into why I don't think they're appropriate), keep in mind the scope of your audience and the lifetime of the text you're writing. Saving you personally that extra second to type out a word, may be outweighed by the fact that many more people will stumble over it, or that it will live on as a reflection of the writer for a long time after you've written it. –  Joost Schuur Dec 21 '10 at 10:47

Use of "R", "U", etc. is a form of shorthand, and would be most appropriate when time, message length, or ergonomics are constrained, for example with Twitter or a cell phone text message.

When there is no such constraint on the part of the person sending the message, however, it conveys a sense of laziness and casualness.

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With regard to Twitter specifically, that can backfire too. Other opinions about her aside, have you ever seen an abbreviate tweet by Sarah Palin and thought how that reflected upon her? My take here is, if you can't express is clearly in one of two consecutive tweets, make a post in another medium like a blog, and link to it from there. –  Joost Schuur Dec 21 '10 at 10:50
    
@Joost Schuur: I totally concur. And this is one of the reasons I loathe twitter. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Dec 21 '10 at 14:30

Well, I think you've pretty much answered your own question here. Such codes have long been the norm in text messaging (and, I think, to a lesser degree in IM). Although it's not so much the case now, I think this happened because until recently most people did not have full keyboards on their phones, which makes such shortcuts very tempting.

This isn't a new thing. There are plenty of rather opaque, mostly forgotten abbreviations from the era of the telegraph. Take a look at this fascinating list of telegraph codes.

If you scroll down to "page" 9 in that article, you'll find that it is recommended that beginning telegraph operators first learn the single letter codes. And what do you think "U" was used for? That's right, "you". "R" for "are" is also listed there.

Many people (myself included) think that using such codes in ordinary correspondence (that is, anything other than texting and IM) is pretty annoying. But certainly in TM and IM it's much more widely accepted.

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Most people suggest avoiding shortcuts such as these and I fully agree. However, there are some shortcuts that may be more appropriate depending on the circumstances. People often abbreviate long words and phrases such as "By the way (BTW)", "without (w/o)", or other longer words. These words and phrases are much longer than "you" or "are" and thus it seems (to me, anyway) less lazy to use the shortcuts. If a coworker sent me the following in an email

BTW are you going to handle the new feature? We need a version w/o validation

I would be perfectly happy reading it, but if they wrote

BTW r u going 2 handle the new feature? We need a ver w/o val

It would look juvenile to me.

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Here's a perfect example of why it's not OK. When you're designing a product that is going to be potentially used by a wider audience, are you going to stoop down to the shortest form of communication possible? Doesn't it deserve a more detailed language, so that you know that both sides are properly communicating their intentions and requirements? –  Joost Schuur Dec 21 '10 at 10:43
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@Joost Schuur: If you have a wide audience, you should use language that fits that whole audience. So if you are designing a product, the product's language should be clear, concise, and with a formality (i.e. no abbreviations, etc) that matches the expected users. However, when talking ABOUT designing the product, between coworkers, you may not need to be as formal. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Dec 21 '10 at 14:29

I suppose I'm a language purist on this one. I think it's never appropriate, not in IMs or SMSs and especially not in business communications.

For me, it evokes the image of someone who couldn't even spend the extra half a second to get a 3 letter letter word right, and makes me wonder about their level of... sophistication (I tried not to be too insulting here by saying 'intelligence', but frankly, I often leap to that assumption too). In a business context, where you're trying to make a good impression, this will definitely affect it.

That's not to say people do it with the intention of showing a careless disregard of proper spelling. Especially younger generations will have grown up with it on cell phones and IMs and instinctively use it as it comes naturally to them. Maybe this is just one of my own peculiarities, but consider that others may have the same kind of extreme reactions.

I understand that language evolves, but I just don't think it should evolve to the point of shortening words down to a single letter.

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I guess I disagree with you that it's never OK to abbreviate. Surely I'd personally never use "u" or "r" as abbreviations. But "business communications" is a broad category, from formal communications from a business to the customers, to instant messages between employees. The same level of formality is not required for these. At least, not in most Canadian or American workplaces that I've experienced. In the old days everyone wore a suit and tie to work, that has been relaxed too. (I just noticed that your own post uses "IM", a clear abbreviation that doesn't seem too informal). –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Dec 21 '10 at 14:48
    
I'll admit I was thinking of employees talking to clients and not amongst themselves, but the same applies for both. By abbreviations, I was referring to shortening individual words down. Nothing wrong with shortening multiple words when it's universally recognized, like IM or BTW, although 'CU' (see you) and 'IDK' (I don't know) is too far for me. There's a line between an accepted abbreviation and 'SMS speak' that I personally never cross. –  Joost Schuur Dec 21 '10 at 20:27

It depends on the relationship between the people writing and receiving the message, and the context of the communication. In the right context "U" and "R" are fine.

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My suggestion is simple: avoid them as much as possible. Don't get the bad habit of shortening words, I've seen a lot of people ending up using K instead of C (one letter for one letter shortening) in Italian.

I feel that the only situation when such shortenings should be allowed are SMS and IM, but only with friends. By all means avoid them when contacting clients!

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