Are you a “serial exclamation pointer?”
You can admit it if you are. (Really! You can!) You’re certainly not alone.
Plenty of us get trigger-happy when it comes to using exclamation points — especially in our writing at work. We do it to express (sometimes genuinely, sometimes not so genuinely) excitement, surprise, or even anger — or to avoid coming off as unenthusiastic or “stone-hearted.”
As Melissa Dahl points out on New York magazine’s The Science of Us blog, “The exclamation mark, once reserved for expressing joy or excitement, now simply marks baseline politeness (a fact brilliantly expressed by an Onion article headlined, “Stone-Hearted Ice Witch Forgoes Exclamation Point“), and when we see a text or email that lacks it, we instinctively wonder what’s up. This is partly explained, research suggests, by the fact that it’s a lot harder to get across tone in written conversation — particularly when it’s abbreviated — as compared to vocalized interaction.”
But that doesn’t mean you should begin every email to your boss with, “Hi!” or end every note to your clients with, “Thanks!!!”
“We rely on [exclamation points] far too heavily when what we really need to do is go back to our words and try to make them convey more precisely what we’re trying to say,” writes Beth Dunn of HubSpot, a cloud marketing software company. “Don’t ask punctuation to do a word’s job, is what we’re saying. It dilutes your message, makes you look unprofessional, and leaves you with nowhere to go when you actually do need an exclamation mark.”
To help all you exclamation-happy readers out there figure out when this punctuation mark is actually called for, and what to do instead when it isn’t, Dunn and designer Tyler Littwin put together the following flowchart:
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