I'm not in academia anymore, but spend quite a bit of my time reading papers and using the findings as part of my job.

Today I picked up a paper that contained a couple of emoji-type icons in the figures. It was to show which of two conditions was preferred. There's a smiley face next to the desired condition and a sad face next to the undesired one. It's an electrical-engineering/computer-science paper.

It's the first time I remember seeing something like this in a paper and it made me question the quality of what I was reading. I googled a bit and it was presented at an FPGA conference in February this year and is associated with a well-known university in the USA, so it seems reputable.

Perhaps I'm just behind the times. Is this more common than I realise?

  • Such things will probably have no meaning in 30 years. You are writing for the ages, not the kiddies.
    – Buffy
    Apr 18, 2020 at 16:47
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    @Buffy: It is hard to imagine that :) and :( will not be understood in 30 years. If yes, then probably many words we use now will also not be understood. Moreover, I think it's not appropriate to call the people using smilies "kiddies".
    – user111388
    Apr 18, 2020 at 16:53
  • @user111388, I know fewer than five emojis even now. How many do you know? And if you intentionally dumb down your writing then you are, indeed writing for the kiddies.
    – Buffy
    Apr 18, 2020 at 17:14
  • @user111388, back in the 1960's we used lots of really cool phrases.. We were bitchin', man, bitchin'. Most people today would consider it trite and disruptive if we'd put it into papers of the time. Some of you probably need to google it to understand what I'm sayin', man.
    – Buffy
    Apr 18, 2020 at 18:01
  • Frankly, I think this should be done more often. It can be frustrating to read a paper with lots of scales where in some more is good (or less negative, or small fractions, etc.) Because they're pictures, they're pretty easy to comprehend Apr 18, 2020 at 18:05

3 Answers 3


I'll answer from the perspective of a different field. In the biomedical sciences, it isn't uncommon to use some cartoonish representations to depict animal tasks/procedures, particularly because actual pictures of animal subjects are often avoided for a number of reasons. The same can be true for human subjects.

I wouldn't think twice about seeing a smiling versus frowning monkey indicating task performance in a figure, as long as it was instructive/guiding and not interrupting/distracting. Same for other types of icons like thumbs up/down. Certainly emojis in text would be totally different.


In my humble opinion, the use of emojis within the texts is strongly discouraged, particularly in a journal paper.

In regards to the figures, I have seen some papers that consider some, maybe funny, images to depict the senses. For example, the users of a system might be angry with the results of one approach and might be happy with the results of another approach.

As the goal of any figure is to describe a subject more clearly, the use of emojis in the figures of a paper is acceptable, and sometimes it may even help the readers better understand the problem.


If I remember correctly, Craig Smorynski once (or maybe more than once) used a smile symbol for "end of proof" and a frown for "end of counterexample". I think this is OK, but when I (only once) tried to do the same, the editor didn't allow it.

  • 1
    Could you say for context that reader don't have to look it up who Craig Skorynski is? Is he famous in his field?
    – user111388
    Apr 18, 2020 at 16:54
  • @user111388 Craig Smorynski is a mathematical logician, the author of several books and of a proof theory chapter in the Handbook of Mathematical Logic. Apr 18, 2020 at 21:45

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