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On Exclamation Points

January 27, 2009

I’ve been a bit of a fascist lately on the issue of exclamation points. Crossing them out with bold red strokes. Sending e-mails dissing them and asking for rewrites. Suggesting that it is a career limiting move to use them in documents that Tim and Tom might see. I went for right action and rules, when what I really wanted to share is a way of thinking about the hated “banger.” I asked folks to drink the Kool Aid without sharing the recipe. The truth is, I forgot why I believe exclamation points suck.  So it was hard to be persuasive.

So I interviewed Tim and Tom via e-mail to help me with a proper argument for why bangers are bad. They were quick with passionate responses and agreed to let me post them.

Tim Rodgers:

It’s as simple as this: if you think a banger is going to make the difference in whether or not someone will get excited or take action you’re wrong. You need to go back and write what you’ve written again. We think all bangers do is make writers lazy.

We put them in the same category as larger, or bolder, type on certain words in a sentence, or using multiple colors of type in an ad.

Keeping it simple, and editing to the essence will make a real difference.

Tom Townsend:

People respond to messages, not punctuation. If you think a banger adds interest, then either the message isn’t interesting enough, or you just don’t have confidence in it. Either way, that’s the problem, not the period at the end. So you’re grasping for a crutch — and what’s worse, a crutch that automatically paints your ad with the same brush that paints all those cheap, under-delivering, over-hyped products that you do not want to be in the same company with. Another way to think of it — a headline or copy full of bold-faced phrases and exclamation marks is like trying way too hard with wigs and makeup, resulting in 1) one’s actual beauty being hidden, or 2) the look of no confidence. Both bad for a brand obviously.

Now I remember why I believe exclamation points suck.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Katie Chadek permalink
    January 29, 2009 1:51 pm

    What about the usage of them in emails? If that is bad, man, I’m sooo guilty…

    I just think a thank you looks better like this: Thank you!

    Because a thank you like this: Thank you. doesn’t seem as enthusiastic or friendly.

    Maybe I’ll just leave punctuation off all together so people can interpret it how they want to

  2. MelissaHamilton permalink
    January 29, 2009 4:15 pm

    Can we add smiley faces both actual and constructed with different punctuation to the mix?

    What about “…” and “/” or even ” ” themselves?

    Just a few other punctuation marks that communicate one’s lack of confidence in wording.

    . . . demonstrates the acknowledgment of something missing
    / demonstrates one’s indecision in choosing a word
    ” ” demonstrates a play on words or contradiction in meaning

    I am a huge offender of the 3 above. I admit it.

  3. Heidi permalink
    February 4, 2009 6:04 pm

    I’ll see your :…”, your “/” and your ” ” ” ” and I’ll raise you a “&” and an “and also.”

    I understand that language and therefore punctuation are ever-evolving, and I don’t have a problem with texting shorthand, e.g., “L8R,” because the context and the technology call for it. Also, the children’s thumbs would fall off if they had to spell everything out, and then we’d face a serious evolutionary setback.

    In formal business communications, it seems to me that the by-the-book usages are worth sticking to, if only because the more casual usages make writing seem lazy and unintelligent. Not cool when you’re in front of a CEO, who almost certainly expects you to say what you mean, and mean what you say.

    So here are my thoughts on the major offenders:

    I’m with Katie on that particular use of the exclamation point, because I think they are great for colloquial usage, e.g., OMG! WTF! But generally, I’m with Tim, Tom and Crystal on why bangers are bad in professional writing.

    People tend to use ellipses (…) as a way to end a sentence they can’t commit to finishing. Lame.

    Slashes and ampersands are increasingly used instead of our dear old friend “and.” Come on, it’s an efficient, reliable, friendly little word. Show it some love.

    Gratuitous quotation marks have become an ugly epidemic unto themselves, as they are increasingly used to “clarify” the “meaning” of the “words” they unnecessarily surround. “Gak.” (That’s the sound of me gagging.)

    “And also” is redundant. Pick one, and ditch the other.

    I could go on, but that’s enough for now. I’m open to discussing all of this, by the way, as I’m not a complete fuddy-duddy.

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