Hold the hysteria: A quick primer on the exclamation point

Overuse of this punctuation mark is like giving yourself a nickname or laughing at your own joke. It also spells doom for professional communications. Keep calm, and use a period instead.

Something exciting has happened, and you want to tell the whole world about it. Naturally, you go to social media to announce your news.

You’re charged up, knowing that your friends and family will be just as thrilled as you. You head to your Facebook or Twitter app and begin your new post with “Great news:” or “So, this happened:” or {insert your creative opener}.

Now you just have to give it that finishing touch.

Do you use an exclamation point? Do you use five or more? Is there really any limit to the number of exclamation points you can and should use?

I want to help you answer these questions. Thanks to Beth Dunn from HubSpot, we have a handy (and entertaining) flowchart. Next, I’m going to break this down for you and give you instant answers to your pressing questions about the exclamation point:

Exclamation points and their overuse

All you have to do is log on to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or whichever social channel you like and you’ll see people overusing exclamation points. People everywhere are using exclamation points at the end of every sentence and in abundance.

You’ve read the status that says: “OMG! This thing just happened to this person!!!! And it was so hilarious!!!!”

If you’re a fervent linguist like me, you probably cringe with each exclamation point you see overused.

This post is perfect for those of us who are tired of the exclamation point, as well as for those who might use it in each and every sentence. Take a journey with me to learn when to use one and when you should avoid it.

How can you use an exclamation point properly?

You don’t always have to avoid using an exclamation point, but there are super simple guidelines. To ensure exclamation success, ask yourself these questions (always) before hitting shift+1 on your keyboard at the end of a sentence.

1. Is what you’re writing very important?
We all have important information to write about. It can take the form of emails, blog posts or documents for clients or businesses. As you write something like this, you might be sorely tempted to use an exclamation point, but you should ask yourself just how important the information is.

If it is something that is, as the flowchart says, vital to national interests, then you shouldn’t use that happy, excited little mark at all.

2. Is what you’re writing super exciting?
First of all, before you ask if the thing you’re writing is super exciting, you need to ask yourself, “Am I easily excited?” If the answer is no, then chances are you won’t overuse the mark.

If you are easily overexcited, you need to make sure you really need the mark. Your excitement about something doesn’t mean an exclamation point will make others excited.

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In addition, if you use interjections such as “oh,” then you can use the mark. For example: “Oh! I didn’t realize that.”

Now, if you write about something that is exciting, well, there you go—exciting info is the best way to get readers excited.

3. Is what you’re writing a legitimate emergency?
Yes? Then why the heck are you writing anything? In all emergencies, you should always call the proper authorities, right? Why are you still reading this?

Well, I guess if you do want to text someone about an emergency, in this case an exclamation point could be well worth it. That is, if you write something such as “hey” at the beginning of the message.

Again, just call emergency services instead of writing. Please.

When should you entirely avoid an exclamation point?

As you can see, you can use an exclamation point (just one) when writing, but you have to be very careful.

Are you now wondering when you can’t use an exclamation point? Never fear—I am here to save the day.

1. Are you writing a highly professional email? Professional emails can be a pain, can’t they? You’re always second-guessing yourself and wondering whether you should say one thing or another.

The one thing you shouldn’t second-guess is the use of an exclamation point. If you are writing a highly professional email, or even if you’re writing to a college professor about missing class, don’t use an exclamation point.

2. Are you writing a term paper that is 70 percent of your grade? Term papers are hard work, and you want every ounce of effort you put in to be appreciated. Whether the paper is 70 percent of your grade or only 20 percent, you still must write it well and professionally.

As you write your term paper, you might just happen across some exciting new information about the topic. Does this mean you can write about it and use tons of exclamation points to show how excited you are?

Nope.

Never use an exclamation point in your term paper—it could knock a few points off your grade.

3. Did you already use an exclamation point? If you’re writing a blog post or something that isn’t highly professional, then you can use an exclamation point. But how do you know when you’ve used too many?

A great way is to read through and see if you’ve already used one-if you have, then you don’t need more. You’ll also notice that reading through your post or content will help immensely, because you’ll start to realize that you really didn’t need an exclamation point everywhere you put one.

Write exciting information; you won’t need a billion exclamation points.

You don’t need exclamation points throughout your content to persuade people to be excited. Punctuation isn’t going to affect them.

When you write exciting content, people will read it.

A version of this article first appeared on Grammarly.

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