Exclamation points: The ugly truth revealed!

Any reputable grammar and style guide tells you to use exclamation points sparingly. Never! Ever! Abuse! Them!

But there’s a caveat. Grammar and style guides are writers’ bibles. They tell us whether health care is one word or two and when to use a comma or a semicolon. Lis and I refer to them because we want our copy to be professional and error-free. The content we provide, however, is for blogs, websites, e-blasts, newsletters and other marketing collateral. The guides we rely on are intended for these uses.

Where does that leave email and texting? Both forms of communication have exploded for business and personal use. And they’re often more informal than other kinds of writing. Exclamation points are creeping in because they convey emotion. The same goes for their evil twins – smiley and frowney faces.

One is the loneliest number

Writers often have the space to set an emotional scene or atmosphere with words alone in an article or Web page, but emails, text messages, Facebook posts and tweets aren’t that generous. You’ve got to get in and get out. The limitation seems to encourage an exclamation point – or even two.

I don’t seem excited when I text, “I can’t wait to go to the Cubs game.” But consider, “I can’t wait to go to the Cubs game! (smiley face)” Is there any doubt I’m fired up now? Of course, the only thing Cubs fans are looking forward to is next year, but that’s another blog topic.

Just for fun, I asked our clients what they think about exclamation points and smiley/frowney faces in emails and texts. My informal poll of 17 people shows that exclamation points and faces are A-OK more often than not.

“I hate to admit it, but I’m the exclamation point queen,” says Dianne Ransom, senior editor and editorial programs manager at PDI Global. “I put them everywhere, but not in official articles. In email, it’s game on. And I love smiley faces.”

Christy Baranowski, CPA at Morrisey Associates, says, “I use exclamation points all the time, particularly when I’m expressing happiness, congratulations or anger. I use smiley faces as well, but pretty much only in texts since it’s easier.”

It used to be that less is more, but now more is more among some proponents.

“I’m prolific with my use of exclamation points,” says Robyn Traub, program coordinator for the Family Business Council at the University of Illinois at Chicago.” I find that I’m using them two or even three times in an email, and have tried to limit myself to just one per email as necessary.

“In texts, I think it’s OK to use as many as you want, especially since those are usually intended for friends or family,” Robyn adds. “Smiley and frowney faces are definitely a must in texts.”

Just say no

Not everyone is a fan of exclamation points and smiley/frowney faces.

“Texting can give you some liberties: People accept more abbreviations given the more difficult nature of entering the message from various keyboards,” says Dan Oscarson, vice president of Global Buyer Marketing at Insurance Auto Auctions. “It’s best to spell things out and punctuate appropriately, however. A text doesn’t give you additional license to be goofy or more lighthearted than you would in regular communication.”

“I hate exclamation points,” adds Lucy Ramirez, communications and marketing manager at Chicago Family Health Center. “I think they make people seem obnoxious and angry, even though I know it’s impossible to tell the real demeanor of the person who is texting or emailing. For me, they are as bad as typing in all caps.”

Beating temptation

In the end, I would apply common sense. Just as I wouldn’t send an expletive-filled email to my boss, I wouldn’t go crazy with exclamation points and smiley faces in business or personal communications. The more you use them, the less power they have.

Get my point?!!!!!!

About Dawn

Dawn is the senior editor at The Simons Group. As a grammar queen, she'd rather lose her wallet than misplace an apostrophe. Fellow copy ninjas unite -- you have an ally.

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