How Many Exclamation Points is Too Many?

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How many exclamation points is too many?

We’ve all been there — sitting in front of our computers typing out an email to a boss or professor wondering, “Did I use too many exclamation points? Should I even use an exclamation point here?”

A lot comes down to stylistic preference, but I like to ask these questions when deciding whether I should use an exclamation point:

  • What is the context?
  • Is it good news?
  • Am I trying to convey excitement or outrage?
  • Is it necessary to convey the right emotion or tone?
  • Will it be distracting?

Punctuation serves an important role in communication, so consider your message and whether it’s worth using an exclamation point. Let’s look at a couple examples using two iconic television characters: Elaine Benes from Seinfeld and Dwight Schrute from The Office.

Elaine & Dwight Misuse Exclamation Points

In the season 5 episode of Seinfeld, “The Sniffing Accountant,” Elaine is bothered by her boyfriend’s failure to use an exclamation point in a note he jotted down about her friend having a baby.

Elaine: Well, I mean if one of your close friends had a baby and I left you a message about it, I would use an exclamation point.

Jake: Well, maybe I don’t use my exclamation points as haphazardly as you do.

Elaine: You don’t think that someone having a baby warrants an exclamation point?

Jake: Hey, look, I just jotted down the message. I didn’t know I was required to capture the mood of each caller.

Elaine: I just thought you would be a little more excited about a friend of mine having a baby.

Jake: Ok, I’m excited. I just don’t happen to like exclamation points.

Elaine: Well, you know Jake, you should learn to use them. Like the way I’m talking right now, I would put exclamation points at the end of all these sentences! On this one! And on that one!

Elaine probably had a point, even if it wasn’t worth the lover’s quarrel. But she took her campaign for the exclamation point too far when editing (yes, she was an editor) a manuscript later in the episode.

Lippman: And, anyway I was just reading your final edit, um, there seems to be an inordinate number of exclamation points.

Elaine: Well, I felt that the writing lacked certain emotion and intensity.

Lippman: Oh. “It was a damp and chilly afternoon, so I decided to put on my sweatshirt!”

Elaine: Right, well…

Lippman: You put exclamation point after sweatshirt?

Elaine: That’s that’s correct, I-I felt that the character doesn’t like to be ch-ch-chilly.

Lippman: I see. “I pulled the lever on the machine, but the Clark bar didn’t come out!” Exclamation point?

Elaine: Well, yeah, you know how frustrating that can be when you keep putting quarters and quarters into the machine and then nothing comes out…

Lippman: Get rid of the exclamation points.

Elaine: Ok, ok, ok.

Lippman: I hate exclamation points.

Now think about the season 5 episode of The Office, “Lecture Circuit: Part 1,” where Dwight — tasked with decorating the conference room for his co-worker’s birthday — fails to capture the mood with the birthday banner he created.

Jim: What is that? “It is your birthday,” period.

Dwight: It is a statement of fact.

Jim: Not even an exclamation point?

Dwight: This is more professional. It’s not like she discovered a cure for cancer.

More professional? Okay. But on a celebratory banner, a birthday announcement deserves an exclamation point.

So what’s the lesson here? Celebratory baby or birthday announcement — probably warrant exclamation points. Putting on a sweatshirt — probably not.

Are exclamation points appropriate in this context?

But now let’s talk about the content for your website. Are you writing about cupcakes? If so, exclamation points might be appropriate somewhere in your content. But even then, you need to consider where to place them.

You probably don’t need to write, “We use organic free-range eggs in all of our batters!” But you might use one here: “Enjoy your cupcakes!”

Let’s say you’re not writing about delicious baked goods; let’s say you’re writing about personal injury. Be mindful of your message, the mood of your readers, and the context of your content.

Consider the following:

  • “If your loved one died after suffering a brain injury, contact us today!”

This is definitely not an appropriate place for an exclamation point. No one is excited about losing a loved one.

If you believe that using an exclamation point in your content would be inappropriate but you still want to create a sense of urgency, do so with your words. Consider the example above; you can create a sense of urgency without using an exclamation point:

  • “Don’t wait another second and risk losing the compensation you deserve. Give us a call today and see how we can help you.”

A good rule of thumb for using exclamation points: if you believe your content could benefit from them (and it would be appropriate), then use them, but be selective. Make sure you place them where they make sense and help communicate your message more clearly.

And when using them, you probably only need one or two. Writing, “I just landed that three-year contract with John’s new company!!!!!!!!!!!!!” can come off as excessive. I can assure you the reader will know you’re excited with just one exclamation point.

Think you use too many exclamation points? Don’t fret. It’s not an exact science. If you’re an exclamation point addict, it might take time; as I wrote this blog I typed up a response email with three exclamation points before reminding myself to rein it in.

Come back next week for a discussion on the appropriate use of “which” and “that” and check out last week’s post on dangling and misplaced modifiers.

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