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Less-Is-More Blog by Pierre Khawand

How many exclamation points should you have in an e-mail!? And how many is too many!!!? by Lynda McDaniel

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Mon, Jul 18, 2011 @ 08:04 PM

Guest blog article written by Lynda McDaniel, Founder and Director of the Association for Creative Business Writing

exclamationLast week, I read an amusing essay in the New York Times about the increasingly popular use of exclamation points in business writing, especially e-mail and texts. BE—before e-mail—any serious writer wouldn’t consider using them unless the comments were truly, well, exclamatory: “I never!” or “Goodness gracious!”

But AE—after e-mail—we’ve naturally gravitated toward using this happy-looking slash + period. I say naturally because after you’ve received your first 1,000 e-mails (which, sadly, can take less than a week), you can’t help but sense the cold, flatness of the medium. It drains the life out of the most animated prose. Back in writing school, they teach that if you need to use exclamation points, you probably need to rewrite and make your copy livelier. But these days, that's a tough sell when e-mail will cast a wet blanket over your best efforts.

And, frankly, who’s got that much time? Today, my students balk at proper grammar and punctuation; I can’t imagine suggesting that they take the time to make each word s-i-n-g. In an ideal world, that would be grand. In our real world, one or two exclamation points seem to work just fine. (Emphasis on "one or two." More on that in a minute.)

Reluctantly, as though they were confessing to a dark secret, several famous authors cited in the essay shared their predilection for exclamation points. Some did suggest restraint, however, and that’s what I teach as well. “More than one or two in an e-mail,” I often say, “and your e-mail looks more like a teenager’s diary than a business document. It won’t be taken seriously.”

The essay also quotes the co-author of one of the best books on the subject, Send: Why People Email So Badly and How to Do It Better, by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe. “The exclamation point is the quickest and easiest way to kick things up a notch,” Schwalbe says, “but not if you’re angry. Only happy exclamation points.”

Good point!

Additional Resources

The Successfully Starting Your Writing Project Workshop: 9/14 (11:30 am to 1:00 pm Pacific Time)

The Business Writing for Success Workshop: 9/16 and 9/23 (11:30 am to 1:00 pm Pacific Time)

Topics: business writing