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Hughes blog post: OMG! Using exclamation marks for maximum impact

26 September 2013    

Cut out all those exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own jokes.
- F. Scott Fitzgerald

There’s a long running joke that public relations consultants use exclamation marks too much. And it’s true! They sneak into news releases (albeit, usually as part of a spokesperson’s quote rather than as part of the hard facts up front), are sprinkled throughout emails, hugely prevalent in text messages, and nowhere is more exclamation mark rich than social media accounts.

It’s time to slow down and think about whether your message really needs an exclamation mark.

I saw a Twitter account recently – a member of an industry not known for its exclamation marked communication style – and every single tweet included that little joyous punctuation mark.

It didn’t suit the organisation’s brand and style, and gave the Twitter account an unintentionally humorous angle – every Tweet, often communicating serious or routine news, was a celebration.

Now, those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. It’s often difficult to hold yourself back from using exclamation points when writing conversational, casual social media posts.

So let this be a memo to myself as it is to everyone else: relax! Not every communication needs an exclamation point! (I am a culprit here. Big time.)

Deborah Gaines, in an article for PR Daily, points out the need for balance.

“People who get excited about every little thing are perceived as flighty and unprofessional, and those who never show sparks seem dull and plodding.”

So, this is not a call to end the use exclamation points. Instead, ask yourself:

  • Is this message exciting to the target audience? (Rather than: is this news exciting to me / my organisation?)
  • Is this message emotional?
  • Is this message surprising?
  • Where else in the communication have I used exclamation marks? (Choose the most exclamation mark-worthy message and stick with that, rather than every message.)
  • Is the style of the communication more conversational and casual, or is it more corporate and formal?
  • What is the “personality” and “voice” of the organisation I am communicating on behalf of?
  • Do I need one exclamation mark or two or three or four? (Hint: unless you are sending a personal email or text message to your friends, the answer to this one is “one”. Always one!)

In another great article from PR Daily, Laura Hale Brockway reminds us of the Seinfeld episode in which Elaine breaks up with her boyfriend over his failure to use an exclamation mark. So perhaps don’t let your eschewing of the exclamation mark go too far!

- Kate Potter