Messaging Dos & Don'ts: Texting Rules for the Digital Age

If you came of age in the pre-smartphone era, you already know the basics of phone etiquette. But now that texting and messaging apps have overtaken phone calls as the preferred method of staying in touch, it’s a good idea to become familiar with the dos and don’ts of texting as well. Here’s how to avoid being the bane of the group chat, telling someone it’s funny that their loved one died, and snubbing someone just by letting them see that you read their message!

Related: How to Search iPad & iPhone Messages: iMessage, Facebook & WhatsApp

Don’t Be That Person in Group Texts

Group texts are a great way to coordinate get-togethers or to just keep in touch. But the sheer volume of message notifications can quickly drive people to leave the group. Here’s how you can help make group texts pleasant for everyone:

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• Stay on topic.

Don’t send messages that aren’t relevant to the purpose of the group. Don’t spam the group message with memes, videos, or URLs (unless sharing them is the purpose of the group).

• Don’t text unless you have something new to add to the conversation.

Ten people replying, “OK,” does nothing for the conversation, but it does blow up people’s phones with notifications.

• Take one-on-one conversations out of the chat.

Did you offer to give someone in the chat a ride to the birthday party you’re all planning? Sort out the details in a private message.

• Don’t start a group text with people who don’t know each other.

Would you share someone’s contact information with a person they don’t know without their permission? That’s what you’re doing when you create a group chat among strangers. Unless the purpose of the chat is to bring those people together, don’t do it.

Embrace GIFs, Emojis & Textisms

Textisms are the abbreviations, alternative spellings, and non-standard punctuation commonly used in text messages. Along with GIFs and emojis, textisms convey the context that we normally get from facial expressions, gestures, and tone of voice when talking in person. While you may want to limit yourself to a smiley face emoji or a single friendly exclamation point when texting an acquaintance or business connection, avoiding them entirely will make your messages seem brusque and unfriendly. On the other hand, going overboard with abbreviations and emojis will make your texts hard to read. Here are a few more points to keep in mind:

• When in doubt, spell it out.

Using abbreviations when you don’t know what they stand for can lead to a major faux pas. LOL means “laugh out loud,” but more than one person has used it when wanting to send “lots of love” to the recently bereaved. Abbreviations can also make you seem unprofessional when used in business messages.

• Don’t be unintentionally unfriendly.

Surprisingly, periods at the end of a text can add a feeling of abruptness and insincerity to the message. On the other hand, exclamation points and some abbreviations can make your words seem friendlier and more enthusiastic. For example, use KK or OK! instead of OK or K, unless you want the person to think you are annoyed.

• Do proofread before hitting send.

It may be OK to bend the rules of punctuation and grammar, but you should still read over your message before hitting send. After all, who among us hasn’t had an autocorrect mishap?

Avoid Having Serious or Long Conversations Over Text

Don’t have arguments, share bad news, break up, send condolences, or have any other emotionally fraught or lengthy conversation over text. The lack of nonverbal cues can easily lead to misunderstandings, it’s too easy to hit send when you shouldn’t, and some conversations are just quicker over the phone.

• Use the Notes app to compose important messages.

If you can’t avoid having a long, serious conversation via text, use Notes or another app to write your message and copy and paste it once you’re sure you want to send it.

Know the Ins & Outs of Responding to Texts

How long is too long to wait before replying to a text? Is it OK to leave someone on read? What if someone doesn’t respond to your message? Here’s the answer to all that and more:

• Do always respond within 24 hours.

How soon you should reply to a text within 24 hours varies. It’s one thing if your hairdresser takes most of the day to text you back about scheduling an appointment; it’s another if you take hours to confirm dinner plans for that night. And while you may be annoyed if your spouse doesn’t text you back right away, it’s weird when someone you just started dating instantly replies to every text you send.

• Do turn off read receipts. Or don’t.

There are two schools of thought on read receipts. One says letting people know whether you’ve seen their message is the polite thing to do. The other says read receipts just increase the likelihood that you’ll offend someone by reading a message and not replying (known as leaving them on read). If you are going to use read receipts, the most important thing is to reply right away once you’ve read a message, even if it’s just to say you’ll get back to the sender later (unless you want them to know you’re ignoring them, in which case, go ahead and leave them on read).

How to Turn Read Receipts On or Off:

  • All contacts: To turn off read receipts on or off for all your contacts, go to Settings > Messages > Send Read Receipts and slide it off or on.
  • Individual contacts: If you have read receipts off, you can still enable them for select contacts (or vice versa). Open a text with them, tap their name, tap info, and slide read receipts on.

• Don’t forget about the iMessage typing indicator.

When you are exchanging iMessages with another Apple user (it’s not a problem with regular text messages), a typing indicator will appear once you tap on the text input field. And it takes 60 seconds to disappear, even if you close the Messages app completely! Have you ever had someone type for minutes only to reply with a single word or to not reply at all? What if you are the one doing the typing; do you want them to know how long you spent thinking about what to say? This is another good reason to use the Notes app to compose important or long messages.

• Don’t bombard someone with texts if they don’t reply right away.

Unless it was an emergency, you wouldn’t call someone more than once or twice if you didn’t get an answer, right? The same rule applies to texting.

KK, hope these tips make all your future text convos productive and fun! May all your messages receive prompt replies, and may you never be left on read. :)

Top image credit: leungchopan /
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Author Details

Sarah Kingsbury's picture

Author Details

Sarah Kingsbury

As the Editorial Director at iPhone Life, Sarah Kingsbury manages the online editorial team and oversees all website content. She is a long-time Apple enthusiast who never goes anywhere without her Apple Watch and owns way too many HomePods. Since joining iPhone Life in 2013, Sarah has done everything from writing hundreds of how-to articles to founding the Daily Tip newsletter. She even co-hosted the early episodes of the iPhone Life Podcast. When not at work, Sarah can be found hiking in the mountains and canyons around Las Vegas, where she lives with her partner and dogs.