How to write in body language

Have you ever expressed regret about written communications because they don’t allow you to “read” – and use – body language? I have, and many others appear to have done so as well.

Writing in body language

There are ways to compensate for lack of body language when you’re communicating in text.

One of the most obvious places where the lack of body language can cause misinterpretations leading to discussions, arguments and worse, is in social media comments. Just one sentence that’s a bit thoughtless or flippant in the wrong circumstances can make a fire break out and within minutes there are dozens or even hundreds of trolls fanning the flames into the second Great Fire of London.

But that’s not the only problem area. We’re also looking at emails, blogs, articles, text messages, and even static web pages as well as printed or hand-written letters and cards.

How can symbols, punctuation and fresh words simulate body language?

If you’re a stickler for correctness in all forms of the written word then they probably can’t.

But nowadays a lot of everyday writing breaks all the rules in the book in terms of grammar, spelling, punctuation and syntax, and much as I shouldn’t promote that in my role as a professional writer, er, well, it can be very useful at times!

One thing I was taught from my early days as a copywriter was that you need to know the rules before you can break them effectively. Some p*ss taking of those rules can work, but random, ignorance-led shorthand tends a) not to work and b) to look silly rather than clever. So by all means do it, but do it intelligently!

Do emojis work as an extension of written words?

Yes they can, provided that they are available. I’ve had a bit of a love-hate relationship with emojis because they haven’t exactly been available everywhere.

Emoji used by Suzan St Maursunglasses emojiNow, though, I love the two little emojis on the right here – available nearly everywhere – that say something about me and have become part of my online branding. No prizes for guessing why!

Increasingly, emojis are being used – more importantly understood as – a means of enhancing your written words with additional, 3-dimensional and human feelings, which is great.

Provided that your eyesight is good, you can tell an entire story using emojis with a choice of dozens of the little icons showing anything from hilarity to vomiting to champagne bottles, sailing yachts and giraffes. Probably the most useful in sensitive discussions, however, are the smile, laughter and winking faces that easily can lighten up what could, in bare text, come across as a little harsh or insensitive.

Even just using the standard emojis offered on Facebook, you’re able to express a choice of enthusiasm, laughter, shock/surprise, sadness and anger beyond the standard “like” option.

What if you haven’t got emojis to express written body language?

Don’t worry: there are numerous tricks you can deploy, some of which enable you to use correct grammar and syntax, and a few others that will stretch the grammar fascists’ sense of humour but which can work well, especially in casual, informal writing.

These tricks include both conventional and unconventional punctuation, as well as use of a good thesaurus. Why the latter? To find nouns and verbs, and to a lesser extent adjectives and adverbs, that go beyond the run-of-the-mill words we tend, lazily, to use – like “good,” “bad,” “go,” “run,” etc. More of those later, though. Let’s look at punctuation first…

How punctuation can suggest body language and emotions

Conventional punctuation like ellipses (sometimes called leader dots) can suggest hesitance, a slight smile or a chuckle:
I wasn’t sure what I should do next … leave, or stay and face the music?
You know what she’s like when she has just met a handsome new man …

Exclamation marks, conventionally, should only be used singly and not very often, either. However as we’re bending the rules, they can be useful at expressing powerful feelings, and the more, the more powerful:
You were lucky that the coffee didn’t spill in his lap!
Heaven only knows what would have happened if that coffee had spilled in his lap!!!!

Full stops / periods are being used creatively these days to emphasise the importance of a point, especially (but not always) when the writer is angry about something:
No way. No way at all.
Absolutely. No. Way.

Then you have the punctuation originating from earlier online days before emojis were available. These two were and still are used to suggest a facial expression or feeling:
*rolls eyes*

*grinds teeth*
<bursts out laughing>
<shakes fist at villain>

And here are a few more you can create using punctuation only…
: – ) smile
; – ) wink
: – ( sad or unhappy
: – / sarcastic or slight chuckle

Then there are the sets of capital letters most of which are initials standing for a phrase:
ZZZzzzzzz – boring
LOL – Laugh Out Loud
ROFL – Roll On (the) Floor Laughing
PMSL – P*ssing MySelf Laughing

Rather than turn this article into a whole book, here is a comprehensive (and very long) list of popular online abbreviations. Take your pick – but hope whoever receives your written communication knows what they all mean!

Now, how about those power words to help replace body language?

Particularly in the fast food world of online texting and commenting, we tend to be lazy and just reach for the verbal equivalent of ketchup. Instead let’s try out some more explicit flavours, starting with “we had a good time at the lake.” Doesn’t share how you really feel, does it, although if you emphasise the word “good” by putting it in italics, we can assume you want to stress it – a bit. But how about (depending on how good!) the following:

We had a fabulous time at the lake
We had an amazing time at the lake
We had the most incredible time at the lake
We had a beautifully peaceful time at the lake
We had a really relaxing time at the lake
We had a truly restorative time at the lake
We had a reasonably good time at the lake
We had a pleasant time at the lake
We had a satisfactory time at the lake
We had an OK time at the lake
We had a useful time at the lake

OK, let’s try another: disagreement

difference of opinion
go at

When mentioning a “disagreement” in a face-to-face conversation, you might only need to qualify it with a smile, a wink or an eye-roll. Using one of the above words in text, though, will help a lot to convey how that disagreement actually took place.

And finally, how about the verb to run (as in move quickly on foot)? Several of the following will give a different and more specific meaning to that word:


A thesaurus is your friend when you’re writing in body language!

I use, twin sibling of Excellent resource, mostly American English though. For British English, you might prefer Roget’s Thesaurus which was first published in England in the mid 19th century. The current version (2004) seems only to be available in print on the UK Amazon, with a slightly more recent and different version on the US Amazon. There are several more, so check out Google to find your favourite.

Good luck with your writing in body language – and let us know if you can think of any other tools we can share

*smiles and waves goodbye* !!!