Style Matters #25: Getting emotional? Then ditch the exclamation mark


I’m tiring of seeing the wanton use of the exclamation mark(!), aren’t you?

Advertisers and marketers overuse it, email writers seem to employ it with gay abandon and I’ve even seen it creep into news stories where its use was previously strictly forbidden. And, heaven forbid, now some deluded individuals are using it multiple times in a futile and infuriating attempt to underscore their points.

This silliness must stop. (I was so tempted to use one here but I resisted, just to set an example.)

Seriously, the intended role of the exclamation mark (known as the exclamation point in the US) is to emphasise strong feelings such as anger, disgust, surprise, excitement or disappointment. It also denotes an interjection in quoted speech.

However, as the English Club points out: “Using an exclamation mark when writing is rather like shouting or raising your voice when speaking.”

According to its Wikipedia entry, the exclamation mark has a rather colourful history as well as an impressive list of alternative and slang names.

Regardless, in many cases, use of an exclamation mark is unwarranted because a skilled writer should be able to communicate strong emotions far more effectively through the choice and arrangement of effective words and phrases than by the use of an exclamation mark.

Historically, Australian newspapers – typically somewhat rough and tumble places – have eschewed this distinctive punctuation mark and typically referred to it by a rather derogatory term, (a dog’s d***); while in other, even earthier quarters, the overuse of the exclamation mark has been cleverly coined bangorrhea.

Of course, an exclamation mark would never be tolerated in erudite publications, fictional or otherwise. It’s simply too gauche.

Can you imagine, then, the didactic dyspepsia among the eagle-eyed guardians of newspaper style guides when Yahoo! came along with an exclamation mark embedded in its trademarked name?

Levity aside, from a purely practical, reader-comprehension perspective, an exclamation mark tends to see the reader focus on the mark itself instead of helping to emphasise a statement. This risks interrupting the flow of the piece, the reader’s train of thought and, ultimately, may jeopardise its comprehension.

So, let’s leave this quirky device to do its attention-seeking work in places where a real warning or interjection is needed.

Achtung (attention) warning sign


If you like what you’ve read here, you can see reporting4work’s similar posts at Style Matters

7 responses to “Style Matters #25: Getting emotional? Then ditch the exclamation mark

  1. I hope this message comes across as it is intended, as a friendly observation from someone who is getting tired of grammatical snobbery.
    I am dyslexic. I write straight from my mind to the page in a constant flow. I am intelligent and verbally articulate, but I can struggle with the structure and organisation of my writing, my grammar and punctuation are appalling and my spelling i not much better. But I WRITE. And isn’t this the point. I am not saying that grammar and literacy basics are not important, I just wish that there wasn’t this synicle judgement on people who can’t get it quite right…like me. I use …in the wrong places, don’t get my commas right and I have no idea what a – or a / is called.
    Difficulties with writing can be caused for so many reasons. I work with young people with learning, behavioral and emotional difficulties. For them to have the confidence to engage in learning and just to get ideas into writing is hard enough, without ridicule from literacy snobs.
    So please, as you write, please think of us. Help us. Give us direct and clear tips without condemnation or ridicule. The sharing of your knowledge would be most appreciated 🙂

    • Hi, thanks for your post. You are correct about just getting started and writing from the heart. That is always vital and an important freedom to cherish and nurture.
      However, you may note if you visit other posts in this series, that I have in the main been addressing the foibles of professional writers: the journalists, marketers, book writers and copy writers who write for a living (and who, one would hope, should know better). Increasingly, these writers are finding it quite hard to find full-time employment as work opportunities contract. Behind them is a whole phalanx of university students who will soon be vying for work in those shrinking markets.
      What I’m aiming to do is give these writers a point of difference: encouragement to focus on the orderly rules of writing.
      So my intent is not to exclude or be a snob but to help writers polish up their grammar, spelling, punctuation and word use so that readers can understand published text with minimum effort. That clarity of expression is not always present in a busy 24/7 reporting and writing world that rushes to post stuff online without a close enough check.
      In newsrooms here and abroad, formal writing guidelines are referred to as “style” – hence the name of this series – and those local “rules” will often be documented as a book or electronic reference.
      Please keep writing and encouraging others to do so. And please come back to visit if you decide you’d like to add to your own mastery of some of these writing devices. Of course, keep challenging me whenever you think I need it. Feedback is always welcome.
      Some of the world’s greatest artists, entrepreneurs and thinkers are dyslexic. I’m blessed to have married one.

  2. I certainly will do as you suggest and look back at your posts to gain perspective. My apologies for the the ‘snob’ term if it caused offence as I meant it generally rather than personally to you. I have a number of friends who have pet peeves about writing and I voice my concerns to them also. You see, I am a total contradiction as one of the aspects of my job is to assess the learning needs as well as the social, emotional and behavioural difficulties of young people and write up reports to advise schools on how to further support them. The assessment bit is interesting but the writing of the reports can be a nightmare. I am also studying for my Masters in Art Therapy and find myself just scrapping by with the essays but doing fine in the verbal. I understand now that your blog is directed at a specific group of professionals however I will certainly continue to follow you as what you are sharing is also of benefit to me. Thank you for your reply 🙂

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