As someone who writes for a living and considers herself quite knowledgable in all things grammar and punctuation, it seems hypocritical of me to suggest that the exclamation mark is punctuation to be reckoned with. But guess what… I’m saying it is! 😉 See what I did there? There’s power in that line and dot and it’s being under-utilised and is misunderstood by readers and writers everywhere. So, I’m going to offer up my little argument for why the exclamation mark is the best piece of punctuation around.
I see the question of exclamation mark usage pop up time and again on social media. Many people consider it a symbol of aggression. Some see it as a mark of ignorance or lack of education. But through the growing use of copy and text online, on websites and in social media, for example, its use has increased significantly. One reason for this is the difficulties people have of expressing or understanding tone through text. We’ve all seen it before. Petty arguments turning into heated discussions or abusive messages all because of a misunderstanding of the tone used in a single innocent comment. I’ve even been accused of being rude, or pushy or ignorant because of the way a message I’ve written was perceived.
So, then, utilising a piece of punctuation like the exclamation mark can suggest a lighthearted or amusing tone through its use. Interestingly, did you know exclamation mark usage by women has increased online? In business, women are considered friendlier and more likeable by their male counterparts if they use more exclamation marks in their emails. And yet, by using more exclamation marks, they are also considered less competent.
I find that a real shame and I do find myself questioning my use of the exclamation mark A LOT in my professional work. Texts and social media posts be damned! They’re getting exclamationed up good and proper! But, when it comes to writing a blog post, or copy for a website, or emails or newsletters, I do find myself pausing over that shift+1 key and asking myself, “Does this sentence really need an exclamation mark here?”
The thing is, I do think an exclamation mark, or two or three, used well, in an appropriate place and setting, can be all the difference from making a piece of text bland and flat to read to adding in a little SOMETHING fun and EXTRA. You know? I mean, take the simple example below:
Hey Dave. Great to see you yesterday. Those figures looked spot on. Catch you later, Sarah.
Hey Dave! Great to see you yesterday! Those figures looked spot on! Catch you later!!! Sarah.
Ok, even I’ll admit the second one is a bit much. But do you see what I’m saying about tone? I bet you read that same message in two different ways because of the addition of all those exclamations.
So, what’s the middle road?
I tend to go all-in with exclamations and then pare them back in my edit afterwards. Not every sentence needs an exclamation and I try to utilise other methods to convey tone and, well, EXCLAIM in my writing, where I can.
But don’t be afraid of the exclamation mark! Its presence in your business writing has a place and has its worth. It’s okay to bring a little humour, joy, excitement and, hey, even the odd bit of shouting, into your copy if there’s a point you’re trying to make. Ultimately, it’s a tool like any other and should be used accordingly.
I mean, without the exclamation mark, there wouldn’t be such a thing as the interrobang, would there?!