HINT: Any number higher than one. And here’s why.
We all receive emails like this daily. A message from your peer or your friend pops into your inbox that’s cluttered with exclamation points. Every sentence is a shout backed by athletic adrenaline and ten cups of coffee.
Did the period key on their keyboard break? Or are they just really energized to talk to me?
Neither, of course. And that’s the problem.
I admit it’s catchy. An exclamation point exudes your alertness, your energy, your commitment to the words on the page.
But is it necessary?
Social media may have a role in all of this. Posts and ads try to catch your attention with as much energy as possible within the sea of words on your screen. So the caps lock is turned on, alliteration is applied and every sentence is deemed exclamation-worthy.
If we could personify punctuation marks, I’d argue that the exclamation point is the salesperson of the digital age.
I don’t hate the exclamation point. In fact, I find it useful in emphasizing my emotion once within my writing.
According to Merriam-Webster, the exclamation point is the punctuation mark “used especially after an interjection or exclamation to indicate forceful utterance or strong feeling.”
Now keep this in mind the next time you write something with more than one exclamation point. Are all of your sentences an interjection or exclamation? Are you wanting to convey strong feeling in every sentence?
Here’s an exercise. Find a sample of your writing—an email, a letter, anything you’ve written for work or school—that has a lot of exclamation points. Now read it out loud. Back every sentence that has an exclamation point with a loud voice and emphatic tone. Is every instance of the exclamation point appropriate?
I’m sure one sentence in the bunch could benefit from it. Otherwise, probably not. And perhaps you feel silly for reading your work out loud to yourself.
The exclamation point should be the cameo in your writing, not the star. Your reader should be pleasantly surprised by the spike of energy, not desperate for it to dip.
“But wait,” you may figuratively say to me. “I end my sentences with exclamation points so that my message comes off as friendly.“
I understand that to a point. In the digital age, it is difficult to pick up a person’s tone in their writing unless you know them very well. Exclamation points within your words can reassure your reader that you come in peace.
However, too many exclamation points can make your excitement look suspicious. If you’re using multiple exclamation points to emphasize your sincere excitement, then you should evaluate the sincerity of your enthusiasm.
The exclamation point wasn’t designed to be a writer’s crutch. If your enthusiasm is genuine, the right choice of words can convey your emotion more effectively than a barrelful of exclamation points ever can.
That’s because words backed by passion resonates with your reader. Exclamation points, when used more than once, can negate even the most heartfelt meaning you have within your message.
Your sincerity doesn’t need an exclamation, just the space to be expressed, read and appreciated.