The exclamation point is a punctuation mark used at the end of a sentence. It emphasizes strong emotions, particularly excitement, surprise, sarcasm, or enthusiasm.
It’s shorthand that says, “I’m excited!”
Like other punctuation, an exclamation mark is intended to help readers grasp the meaning of your sentence. But these days, it’s overused. Few of us believe that there’s genuine excitement behind all the exclamation points floating around. Which means they’re a crutch.
While exclamation marks are almost never used in formal or business writing, they’ve long been considered commonplace in personal writing.
But today’s technology has caused business writing to become more casual, from email to texting, blogging, and social media. That’s why it’s easy follow the trend of overusing exclamations – “Everyone else does!” – even unknowingly.
Don’t. Resist the crowd on this one. Formality or informality notwithstanding, you dilute the exclamation mark’s impact when you use it too much.
And consider this: are you communicating emotion with strong writing – or are you simply relying on a bit of punctuation? Therein lies the crux of the matter. If you cannot identify the excitement that drove you to write the exclamation mark, chances are your readers won’t feel it either. It takes more than punctuation to get people excited. Use these writing tips as you self-edit your exclamations.
An exclamation point acts like a red flag during the self-editing process. Review each one in your piece and determine if you can eliminate it. Ask yourself, “Is there a different way I can convey excitement?”
Rewrite the sentence by changing the language, using an example, or describing an outcome. For example, instead of “Act fast!” try “Act fast before supplies run out” or “Act fast so one special child can get immunized by age 3.” The variety creates genuine emphasis, which is the whole point of an exclamation mark, anyway.
Not in multiples!!!
Don’t combine exclamations with other punctuation, no matter what point you want to make!#%!
An exclamation mark is appropriate in typical interjections like “Wow!” or in a casual or personal communication that is heartfelt: “Congratulations!” in an email to a co-worker who just had a baby or “I’m thrilled for you!” in a text to a friend who just got engaged. Use an exclamation mark only when you mean it. You’ll be taken more seriously.
“An exclamation point is like laughing at your own jokes,” said American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940).
When in doubt, leave it out. Use a period instead.
More about Editing
Content by award-winning content writer and author Kathy Widenhouse, who specializes in writing for nonprofits and faith-based organizations.
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