See You Soon, Exclamation Point!

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?

Lynn
Syntax Training

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Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact. A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors. A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media. Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

11 COMMENTS

  1. The rule I would recommend is only use an exclamation mark after an exclamation, and if you are not sure what an exclamation is, find out.

  2. Clare, thanks for recommending that fine article. I loved it. Or: I loved it!!

    As you know, the end of the article covered other punctuation marks. I especially enjoyed Fowler’s comment that the colon delivers the goods that were invoiced previously. (I’m writing from memory, so I am leaving out the quotation marks I probably should be using.)

    Again, thanks for sharing.

  3. The exclamation point is a sure sign of an amateur copywriter. You can spot bad copywriting by the frequent use of exclamation points. It’s worse when several are used at the end of a headline. Stop it!!!!!

    If you’re interested in copywriting, you can visit my copywriting blog at http://www.wordnerds.com.au

  4. Michael, thank you for responding to Naeem’s comment. I agree with you.

    Word Nerds–I love it! (And that exclamation point is just fine.)

  5. Hey Lynn,

    Just wanted to share this with you.

    One of my clients wants to remove an exclamation mark from a restaurant review I’ve just written, presumably because of its reputation for being the preserve of the amateur writer.

    It occurs in the phrase “Top marks for seasonality!”, a genuine exclamation. To the sensitive reader, losing the exclamation mark makes the phrase read like irony.

    smfifteen’s rule is spot on.

    Clare

  6. Hi, Clare. I’m sorry your exclamation mark is being rubbed out. I like it.

    At the same time, “Top marks for seasonality” is clear to me–but without the energy.

  7. In my work I communicate daily by email with many vendor/partners I have never met. Most of them overuse the exclamation mark. Of those that do, I perceive them as younger, more junior in status, possessing less expertise, and sometimes irritating. I never consciously recognized this until I read your article. Fascinating!

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