You Know What I Meant: The Science behind Email and Intent

10 Pages Posted: 15 Apr 2017 Last revised: 21 Apr 2017

See all articles by Kristen E. Murray

Kristen E. Murray

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law

Date Written: 2017


It is now a given that electronic communication pervades the modern world. The way we communicate was largely unchanged for a long stretch of time and then changed very quickly. We moved swiftly from handwritten and typewritten letters and telegrams to email and text messages and tweets. Now we can send a meaningful and easily-understood message that contains solely a smiling face made up of punctuation marks or an image of a fruit or vegetable.

Email has become the major form of electronic communication. It is quick and convenient and sending messages is extremely easy; today almost all of American adults use email, and it is the most popular form of business communication. Nearly half of the world population will be using email by the end of 2020.

But recent social science research suggests that the winking faces and pineapples might have a better chance of being understood than an actual, longform email message. This article investigates two questions based on this research. When it comes to this casual form of communication, how sure can we be that our intentions are properly conveyed? And where there is reason to doubt, what implications exist for the world of legal communication?

Keywords: Legal Writing, Technology, Email

JEL Classification: K00

Suggested Citation

Murray, Kristen E., You Know What I Meant: The Science behind Email and Intent (2017). 14 J. ALWD ___ (2017); Temple University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2017-08. Available at SSRN:

Kristen E. Murray (Contact Author)

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )

1719 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States
215-204-2379 (Phone)

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