How to Use Exclamation Points
Everyday, people around the world struggle with the same question: to exclamation point or not to exclamation point? Exclamation points can be friendly, but they can also be too friendly. Over text messages, they can show excitement, but they can also make it seem like you’re yelling. In a work email, they can lighten the tone, but also look less serious. If you don’t use exclamation points, you can risk seeming mean. So what’s the verdict and why are they so confusing? It is just a line with a dot under it.
Traditionally, an exclamation point is intended for ─you guessed it─ exclamations. “Help us! Alas! Run away! Yay! Watch out! Behold! Golly gee!”, are all exclamations accompanied by this magical punctuation in order to grab the reader’s attention.
Over time, the exclamation point hasn’t changed much, but rather, accumulated meaning. It can represent kindness, volume, commands, action, surprise, or passion. It can be used for almost anything, so it lost its power and became nothing. In my humble opinion, we overuse exclamation points to compensate for our lack of face-to-face interaction. Whether it’s over text message, email, or on social media, we alter our punctuation and capitalization to evoke a certain tone and meaning.
The use of periods tend to seem too serious, direct, or stern, especially for women. In a semi-recent study by Carol Waseleski, she found that “73% of all exclamations were made by females, and 27% by males.” So why do women use them more liberally than men?
Women at BuzzFeed put themselves to the test and did not use any exclamation points for 72 hours. “Somewhat to our surprise,” they wrote, “we found that it was overall easier to abstain from exclamation points in our personal lives than in our professional ones. It may be that, as women in the workplace, we feel increased pressure to appear friendly, accommodating, and grateful.”
One can affirm that adding a “!” in a work email or memo can soften instructions, create warmth, or seem less authoritative. On the downside, it can also seem unprofessional and be taken less seriously. And so the question remains: to exclamation point or not to exclamation point?
Share your opinion on the use of exclamation points and leave a comment below!
*Inspired by and adapted from Netflix original series, “Explained,” Season 1, Episode 10.
Author: Audrey Springman