Have you ever been so excited you could hardly stand it?!
The easiest way to express excitement in writing is with one or more exclamation points. But when you learned to write in high school or college, you probably learned to keep those pesky marks to a minimum, so as not to seem unprofessional. But once you’re out in the real world, doing a lot less paper writing and a lot more texting, direct messaging, and emailing, the same rules need not apply.
If every time you go to type an exclamation point, the voice of your high school English teacher yells that it’s not appropriate, it’s time to shut that voice down. Exclamation points are great, useful tools for expression in business and casual conversation. Here’s why.
Exclamation points set the tone!
If you communicate through email at work, you’ve probably typed out a quick response to a colleague, pressed “Send,” and then realized how serious your message sounded. Exclamation points can help save you from this! Even in a business setting, they can help express excitement, relieve some pressure from a message or lighten the mood. Let’s say you’re meeting with a colleague about a project you two worked on to talk about next steps. Your colleague sends you a message that says,
Looking forward to it.
Because you can’t hear the way they said it, you might be left to wonder whether or not your colleague is actually looking forward to it. You can assume that colleague just as excited about continuing with the project as you are if they modify their punctuation:
Looking forward to it!
Now let’s say you just let that colleague know that Beyoncé is going to be at that meeting. You’d probably appreciate a response like “Looking forward to it!!!”
And that’s just for business. In your personal communication, you have a lot more freedom. When your best friend tells you she’s engaged, is “Yay!” enough? No! Send your friend a “Yay!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” with 20 exclamation points. She deserves it.
An informal guide to exclamation points
For business writing, your usage depends on what, where, and to whom you’re writing. Writing reports or documents that will be seen by a big portion of the company? Probably leave them out. But email and Slack messages? Go for it!
In the office, it’s also probably best to save exclamation points for positive sentiments; if you try to carry on a serious conversation over email and use exclamation points, your colleague might think you’re yelling at them.
When writing a longer email, it’s also worth imagining how your writing would sound if you were reading it aloud. Even if you’re really excited about an upcoming report, three sentences with exclamation points in a row might sound! Too! Excited! Try sticking to one exclamation point per paragraph.
In personal messaging
Your friends (hopefully) don’t care about exclamation point etiquette. The number of exclamation points you use in texting, DMing, creating an Instagram story, or commenting on a post is totally up to you. Use the number of exclamation points that’s in your heart. Language is supposed to help you communicate what you mean, so if you need two exclamation points for an extra-emphatic opinion and 27 for an announcement to your brother about your promotion, go for it.
Exclamation points are great for informal expressions of frustration, too, but they may not be the right choice every time. A well-placed period, especially in forms of communication where periods are dropped entirely, may be more effective in expressing the gravity of your feelings. “I really don’t appreciate that!” doesn’t read quite as weighty as “I don’t appreciate that.”
Informal communication is also a great place for interrobangs (?!). These are helpful for questions that need to be answered right away, like “We’re going to lose our reservation! When’s your ETA?!”