Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Christmas 2018: Heart of the matter

Is it time to start using the emoji in biomedical literature?

BMJ 2018; 363 doi: (Published 12 December 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;363:k5033
  1. Vikas N O’Reilly-Shah1 2,
  2. Grant C Lynde1,
  3. Craig S Jabaley1
  1. 1Department of Anesthesiology, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA, USA
  2. 2Division of Pediatric Anesthesiology, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Atlanta, GA, USA
  1. voreill{at}

As the emoji continues to gain in popularity, Vikas O’Reilly-Shah and colleagues explore its potential role in scientific communication

The explosion of smartphone technology has brought with it a transformation of the English language. Using the original 256 character American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) set,1 initial forays into digital communication were laborious at best, requiring complete sentences and actual punctuation to convey meaning. No longer.

In October 2010 the Unicode Consortium added emoji to its evolving standardised universal character set, allowing for vast swaths of the human experience to be communicated by a single character. Their use in the scientific literature has already begun: at least one paper has included emoji in the abstract,2 and a brief piece on scientific emoji was featured in Nature.3 (The plural of emoji is under some debate.45 In our view, “emoji” without the pluralising s is much more aesthetically appealing than “emojis.”)

Given the potential for economy of language, an augmented range of expression, the need to study our contemporary lexicon, and the entry of a new generation of scientists into writing and publishing, the time is ripe to discuss the value and potential pitfalls associated with using emoji in the biomedical literature.

Great possibilities! 🎉🎊🌟

Emoji are single character images conveying stylised facial expressions, objects, animals, flags/signs, weather patterns, and activities. Originally developed in the 1990s, they have been adopted worldwide and are a core element of current electronic communications. As one author put it, emoji “scaffold our electronic communications. Yes, they are cute and fun and kind of addictive, but they also improve our capacity to make our intended meaning known.”6 The position of …

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