A newsletter reader asked for advice on when to use exclamation points. An editor, she said many of the younger writers she works with use too many. And she’s looking for guidance, asking “What’s an appropriate use for exclamation points?”

Gulp. I might not be the right person to ask. I too am an exclamation-point-loving fiend, despite no longer being young.

But it’s a good question!

This kind of punctuation is similar to emojis, in my opinion, which I am also guilty of having an addiction to. Rarely do I send an email without a smiley face emoji…and yes, I mean work emails. (I should probably insert a blushing emoji here.)

Why are we using so many exclamation points?

In my mind, the exclamation points and the emojis are working towards the same goal: making our content friendlier, and taking the place of body language and facial expression because the bulk of our communications are now digital.

After all, when you emphasize a text message, you do so by choosing the !! symbol. And we do live in a world where people are communicating by chat and text, with fewer words and more punctuation, it seems. So the excessive exclamation points are the norm for them.

Today the exclamation point is less a shout and more an emotion.

Today the exclamation point is less a shout and more an emotion.

Then what is an appropriate use for exclamation points?

But that doesn’t make them all okay all the time. The answer isn’t “go with the flow” and allow the exclamation points to take over.

No, the answer goes back to something I say a lot: Know your audience. That determines “appropriate use.”

For example, I had a Zoom interview with a VP of Marketing recently (as I get back to freelancing). If I am chosen for the project and I start exchanging emails with this person, I most definitely will not be using exclamation points, no matter how excited I get.

On the other hand, while writing this blog post to you, my dear reader, who is used to my somewhat silly way of addressing serious topics, I am free to use exclamation points! And if my husband sends me a text as I’m typing this, there’s a good chance my reply will end with a bang (!).

So again, the answer is to know your audience and use what is appropriate with that audience. Should a newspaper article be full of exclamation points? Nope. But a journalist’s email to a colleague might be.

We could really use something new

It would be nice if periods and exclamation points could make a baby that offers something in between, like a period and a comma combined give us a semicolon. It would help us give emphasis in our written content when we have to rely on words alone, without body language, facial expressions or voice inflection to help us out. (Remember the sentence “I never said you stole the money.”)

But for now, this baby of an exclamation point doesn’t exist, so we need to make do with constraint and wisdom instead.

When it is appropriate to use an exclamation point? When it works for your message but also your audience!

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio: https://www.pexels.com/photo/cheerful-young-woman-screaming-into-megaphone-3761509/

Sharon Ernst is a freelance editor and writer at www.weknowwords.com, a teacher and coach at www.betterfasterwriter.com. And a farmer and planet saver at www.literalroadfarm.com.