I overheard two women talking about exclamation points recently. The one said to the other, “If I receive email outreach that includes an exclamation point, I immediately hit delete.” The other woman agreed and said, “Right? Aren’t they annoying and unprofessional?” I cringed, thinking how most of my email outreach included salutations like, “Hi, Sally! How are you?” After discovering these women would discard my message upon reading my email’s first line, I searched to determine the correct and incorrect usage of exclamation points.
Grammar rules aside, people have strong feelings about exclamation points. So, where do you fall? Are you #TeamExclamationPoint or #TeamExclamationPointsAreTheWorst?
The Purpose of Exclamation Points
Exclamation points have been around for a long time, but the official mark didn’t go on typewriters until the 70s. Interestingly, when it did, it assumed the number 1 position, literally—right above the 1 on the 1 key.
Exclamation points, or exclamation marks as they’re also called, are punctuation marks designed to show excitement, emergency, emphasis, surprise, or strong emotion. However, they have evolved, at least for some people, into coming across as rude, sloppy, and unprofessional.
When to Use Exclamation Points
Here are four do’s to help you know when to use exclamation points:
1. Use exclamation points to show emergency or other strong emotions.
“Stop!”, “Wait!”, or “Whoa!” when written as “Stop.”, “Wait.”, or “Whoa.” just aren’t as effective in conveying a sense of urgency. Therefore, if your primary goal is to communicate a sense of urgency or another strong emotion, don’t replace this punctuation mark with a period. No matter how much you, personally, do not like exclamation points, your words will not be as effective without them.
2. Add them to indicate surprise.
Just as exclamation points are most effective for communicating emergency or other strong emotions, they also are perfect for indicating surprise. After a simple search in the Cambridge Dictionary, I discovered an entire list of surprise expressions. For example, “Wow!”, “I’ll be damned!”, “I’ll be a monkey’s uncle!”, “Bless your soul!”, “Hallelujah!”, and “You don’t say!” are just a handful that topped the list. A period makes them far less effective. I mean, “Wow.” just doesn’t hold the weight that “Wow!” does, right?
3. Include them in social media post content.
Social media posts aren’t only perfect for single exclamation point usage, they almost beg for multiple marks as in this post below. So, feel free to go crazy when posting on your social channels. Well, unless your content is supposed to be professional or communicates weighty matters. Then, hold back.
4. Use them in less formal or friendly communication.
When communicating in less formal or friendly ways, knock yourself out using exclamation marks to convey excitement (even happiness), emergency, emphasis, surprise, or strong emotion. For example, add them to cards, emails, handwritten letters, in social media chatter, texts, and other notes.
When to Avoid Using Exclamation Points
Follow this one rule to avoid using exclamation points:
Do not use exclamation points in professional communication.
Exclamation points should not be used in professional communication. This goes for any form of outreach: blogs, business writing, email, reports, social media, and other correspondence. If you want to spice up your content, consider making the communication itself—the words—exciting instead of adding a mark to emphasize excitement.
Wrapping It All Up
Even though I am #TeamExclamationPoint, I have scaled back on my use of these marks. Even in salutations, I now write: “Hi, Sally. How are you?” as opposed to “Hi, Sally! How are you?” I save them for emphasis and use them sparingly. But get me on a fun text thread and watch out! I won’t hold back.
In summary, apply the above grammar guidelines to play it safe in your business communication. However, go with your gut when it comes to the less formal convos.
What team are you on? #TeamExclamationPoint or #TeamExclamationPointsAreTheWorst? Why?