There’s been a rumble of discontent in recent years about people overusing exclamation marks. As Stuart Jeffries says in his article in the Guardian, it’s become a favourite flourish of people of a certain age and gender, especially in quick electronic communications. Yes, apparently women are more ‘exclamation-mark happy’ than men because they’re friendlier. If you’re intrigued by this idea, you might want to have a look at his article.
Here at the Lorries, we too have noticed a rather excited use of exclamation marks in the business world, particularly in sales and internal comms – newsletters, emails and the like. It’s something we tend to discourage, unless we’re working with a company whose tone of voice is that of an excited teenager (and we haven’t come across one yet).
You may want to come across as friendly when you write to colleagues and customers, but using exclamation marks is a clumsy way to do it. Here’s why.
Stuart Jeffries goes into the history of exclamation marks in some detail in his article, but essentially they direct the reader to inject some emotion into whatever comes before them. Like all punctuation, they show us how to read things. So they’re used with exclamations like Wow! or Ouch! or Go away!
When things start to go wrong is when people tag them on to the end of sentences or phrases to put energy into lifeless words. This can easily sound as if the writer is trying a bit too hard to gloss up something that’s not particularly exciting.
Poorly used exclamation marks can give text a slightly hysterical tone – a bit like a frazzled dinner party hostess trying desperately to keep things light and pleasant when someone’s just left the table in floods of tears.
Our advice – let your words speak for themselves. A quiet, calm voice will hold people’s attention much more effectively than one that shouts and waves about.
So the next time you find yourself going for the exclamation key, try it without. You’ll sound more measured – and most likely more confident too – without adding what Lynn Truss in Eats, Shoots & Leaves calls a screamer, a gasper and other terms to colourful (ahem!) to mention here.