It’s good to be excited and enthusiastic about the message you’re sending via your written communications. After all, good news is meant to be shared. But just as in verbal communication, being too exuberant can have a negative effect.
People tend to ‘shout’ more often in text in these days of the digital revolution, and excessive use of exclamation marks is even infiltrating the calm collective of the corporate world.
From attention-grabbing clickbaits, to over-zealous headlines, even internal emails are telling us this is the most exciting news your readers will ever see. However, just as real-life inflation devalues money, exclamation inflation devalues the power of words.
The not-so-humble exclamation mark was only officially put onto typewriters in the 1970s, and way back then it took pride of place just above the Number 1 position – literally. Exclamation marks were – and still are – intended to show excitement, emergency, emphasis, surprise, or strong emotion. They were never meant to be used as everyday additions to even the most mundane messages.
So when can, or more importantly, when should you use an exclamation mark?
1. Use exclamation points to show emergency or other strong emotions
‘Stop.’, ‘Wait.’, or ‘Whoa.’ don’t send the same message as ‘Stop!’, ‘Wait!’, or ‘Whoa!’. If your main goal is to communicate a sense of urgency or another strong emotion, a full-stop just won’t cut it. If your message is urgent then an exclamation mark is right on point.
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. Even the dictionary uses them in a list of surprise expressions such as ‘Hallelujah!’, and ‘You’re kidding!’ and ‘Wow!’.
3. Include them in social media post content
Social media posts have brought the use of exclamation marks to the fore. If a post hasn’t got an exclamation mark in it, there’s a tendency to scroll past it without giving it a second glance. Although it may not be grammatically correct, the rules don’t seem to apply to social media messages, except perhaps if the post is supposed to be professional or communicates weighty matters.
When to avoid using exclamation points
There’s really only one rule for when not to use an exclamation mark. Do not use them 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.