This week’s question comes to us from one of my kids, who will remain nameless because neither wants to appear in a dorky grammar blog written by their uncool (but incredibly good-looking) mom. I will oblige this request for anonymity because, despite my repeated claims about how lucky they are to have me, apparently I ruin their lives on a semi-regular basis. Why add to their torment by naming them here? I have so many other ways I’d rather torment them. Onward:
My English teacher took points off my essay for using too many exclamation points. What the heck? I hate this school. And now that I submitted a question to your stupid thing, can I have my iPod back?
I’m so glad you wrote! And I loved your question!!! I am excited to answer it! You know how you can tell? Because I am using a lot of exclamation points!!!! And no iPod until you clean your room!!!!!
And with this profound what the heck?, we come to one of Dear Megan’s biggest pet peeves: use of exclamation points in copy. Note I didn’t write overuse or excessive use. Nope, I mean any use at all.
Content writers, do not use exclamation points in your business copy. Ever. I know you’re just being excited/creative/sassy/ironic, but don’t do it. No one is so excited/creative/sassy/ironic that it warrants, in a 500-word article about Top 5 Widgets to Help You Poke Holes in the Ground or whatever, use of this particular piece of punctuation. It’s distracting to the reader, it’s amateurish and it makes copy look immature.
Case in point: Last week I stumbled across a site that put exclamation points in their headlines. Here’s a sample:
- 1 Billion Mobile FB Users Brought 59% Of Q1 2014 Revenue!
- Twitter Records 25,000 Tweets From This Guy, Every Day!
- Businesses That Adopt Mobile Are Poised for Success!
I know what you’re thinking: But Dear Megan, those are headlines! Look how appropriate we can make exclamation points look in body copy!
No, no, no, you can’t. Here’s an example from an article about home decorating:
In the kitchen, if you’re a fan of displaying your dishes, consider using chicken wire instead of display racks and hangers!
Blech. Let your words convey excitement and impact. Still don’t believe me? Maybe you’ll believe F. Scott Fitzgerald:
“Cut out all those exclamation marks,” he wrote. “An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own jokes.”
And for you Strunk junkies:
“Do not attempt to emphasize simple statements by using a mark of exclamation. The exclamation mark is to be reserved for use after true exclamations and commands.”
Where Do Exclamations Points Belong, Then?
Exclamation points do have a place in the world. Save them for:
- Literary dialog: “Stop,” he shouted, “in the name of the law!”
- Literary narrative: Edgar Allen Poe used them to establish the narrator’s frenzied anxiety in “The Tell-Tale Heart” (there are eight of them in just the first three paragraphs of the story)
- Personal expressive writing, IMs, texts and the like
- Social media: Facebook posts with exclamation points get 2.7 times more interactions on average, according to a study from TrackMaven
If you need to check yourself, here’s a handy chart from writer Matthew Stibbe.
Image from badlanguage.net.