How I learned to stop worrying and love the exclamation point (sort of)

January 31, 2017

Months ago, I told the team at Metis I was – possibly, maybe, perhaps if the stars aligned – ready to revise my opinion on the exclamation point. As the person most likely to delete exclamation points around here, I saw this as a major concession.

I have never hidden my feelings about the laziest piece of punctuation on the keyboard. Too often, marketers tack a few !!! onto something that doesn’t deserve the excitement. They’re not fooling anyone. You cannot make a boring announcement thrilling with a single keystroke – or by dropping in a bunch of terrific, very good, huge adjectives, for that matter. To convey convincing enthusiasm in writing, you still need solid word choices. (And maybe emojis. 😉)

And yet, when I see someone receive an offer letter that opens with “Congratulations.” I pause. That period feels too serious for a message that should be welcoming. The tone is off, which makes me wonder, have I been corrupted by the creep of the exclamation point into so many emails, blog posts and tweets? Should I stop holding the line against this Kardashian-esque manner of expression? Is it time to bend a bit? 

Yes! Or more specifically, yes. 

As Slate’s Katy Waldman puts it, “in a world where ‘Thanks!’ means ‘thanks’ and ‘Thanks.' means ‘I hate you,’” those of us who communicate for a living have to make some concessions as norms shift. Occasionally, I find myself typing “!” as a shorthand for “I’m happy about this thing I just said, but I fear it could come across differently in writing, so here’s the proof of my good will!” 

It still feels a bit lazy, and I still rewrite whenever possible to use words that more clearly communicate my tone without that !. But sometimes, I go with ! for clarity in a new world order. If you find yourself thinking, “SAD!” I’ll leave you with this concession and caution:

Exclamation points can be credibility killers. If you want to come across as inexperienced, unsophisticated or hyperbolic, the easiest way to do it is to hit <SHIFT> <1>. And if the intent of your communication is positive awareness, the exclamation point can mess you up. In its 2014 “Blog best practices and benchmarks,” MarketingProfs found that, “few publishers use exclamation points (97 percent of posts analyzed did not have one), and for good reason: Average social shares decreased for blog titles that had up to three exclamation points.” 

People who want to be taken seriously or build their own profile as an expert have to be careful about where they share their enthusiasm and how. All those !!! can make a person come across as an exuberant puppy who wants to look like a big dog, but can’t stop wagging its little tail.

If you need some backup as you decide when, where and how to use the most popular punctuation of our time, this “Should I use an exclamation mark?” flowchart is worth checking out. Or email me and we can hash it out – just don’t judge too harshly if my response starts with, “Thanks for your message!”

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