Because the exclamation point is so overused, readers often don’t feel the excitement.
Like most people, you have received email that says such things as, “We’re looking forward to it!!!!” but you’re not sharing quite the same level of enthusiasm.
The exclamation point has never received so much exposure as it has since the arrival of email, as people try to inject warmth into business messages that lack feeling. On the surface, that sounds like a laudable effort, but statements often don’t require special punctuation.
An exclamation is an emphatic statement, such as Wow! or That’s inexcusable! Or it marks a sudden burst of enthusiasm, as in Great work yesterday! or I can’t wait to see you! But techniques used excessively become stale, and the effect is lost on the reader.
The overuse of the exclamation point stems in part from the self-centered nature of writing. We write from our perspective: We know what we want to say and how we want to say it, but we don’t consider how the reader will view it. The writer sees the exclamation point as a way to convey enthusiasm and assumes that the reader will be giddy with excitement.
So a company letter to a contest winner says, Don’t forget to visit our restaurants and support our family friendly organization! And an HR department tells employees in an email, We are very excited to announce our new cafeteria policy! Are the HR folks truly excited? Not likely, and the reader knows it.
Exclamation points reflect the emotional content of a statement, so it’s fine in Congratulations! or What a great new client! but in many other instances, it will take more than a punctuation mark to get people excited.
Caution: Avoid using exclamation points to convey sarcasm or irritation, because it can sound as if you are ranting and can damage your image. Sending a message that says, “I can’t imagine what you were thinking!!!” will not do much for your workplace credibility.
Ken O’Quinn is a professional writing coach and former Associated Press writer who conducts corporate workshops on business writing, persuasive writing, and corporate communications writing. He is the author of Perfect Phrases for Business Letters (McGraw-Hill), which is available at here at Amazon.com.