In a recent Better Business Writing class, a participant asked me to post a blog on exclamation points, also known as exclamation marks. "They are everywhere!" she said.
She's right! They are everywhere! And just as you are beginning to worry that my overuse of them here will be disgustingly cute, I will stop using them.
That's the point about exclamation marks. They can be perfect when used thoughtfully. But overused, they make a business message sound and look silly.
In my first paragraph (above), the exclamation point in "They are everywhere!" is fine. It communicates the feeling behind the comment in a way that "They are everywhere" followed by a comma would not.
But my exclamation points in the second paragraph come across like talking too loud at a restaurant. They get people's attention but make them wonder if I know how to behave.
We do need ways to express our enthusiasm and excitement in writing. But words can do much of the work for us. For example, the statement "I can't wait to meet you" needs no exclamation mark. The eagerness is in the language. Likewise, "We are all looking forward to working with you" conveys enthusiasm without the need for punctuation hype.
On the other hand, this single word without an exclamation mark suggests disappointment: "Great." Yet "Great!" communicates excitement.
I'm not near my shelves of reference books to do punctuation research tonight, so I will suggest a few rules on my own:
Rule 1: Never use more than one exclamation mark to make your point. Not this!!!
Rule 2: Avoid using more than one exclamation mark in a paragraph. If you want to use more than one, try to find words to exclaim instead.
Rule 3: Add joy to your workplace. If the enthusiastic "Thanks!" or "See you soon!" will brighten someone's day, use it.
What rules do you recommend?