Email Exclamation Point Usage

Email-imageWhile I am not the most grammatically correct writer, I have respect for the English language and the nuances of its unique punctuation.  My style of writing is that of a first person storyteller, and I write like I talk.  This is done to envelop the reader (you) in the story.  My wife is an abstract painter, but she didn’t start that way.  She had to learn techniques and the “correct” way to paint before understanding why she was creating abstractions.  You learn the rules to understand why we break them.  Same goes for writing, I went to writing school to learn how not to write.  (You’re welcome Mom and Dad)  Many people write like they talk, and from reading emails these days…maybe more people need to learn how to talk first.  I can’t get over how much the exclamation point is overused, misused, and abused in email.  Not everything in email needs an exclamation point.  Not everything is “LOL!!!”  Not everything is being shouted.  Not everything is an interjection.

Let’s start with defining what an exclamation point is:

The exclamation mark or exclamation point is a punctuation mark usually used after an interjection or exclamation to indicate strong feelings or high volume (shouting), and often marks the end of a sentence. Example: “Watch out!” Similarly, a bare exclamation mark (with nothing before or after) is often used in warning signs.


Seems pretty straight forward.  However, this definition goes out the window in email most likely to our old familiar friend and persistent pet peeve of mine: The Online Disinhibition Effect.  People say and do things online they would not do in person because they are lacking the face-to-face time required for true social contact.  While I have found this to be most prevalent in the comment sections of online sports articles, it shows its ugly head in everyday email through the overuse of the exclamation point.  Here is an example from a recent email conversation at work:

Me: When you get a moment, could you please send over the files from this morning’s meeting?

Them: OK!!!

Me: Are you okay?

Them: Yes!

Me: Okay, let me know if you need anything.

Them: OK!!!!!

Following this conversation I went to the person I was emailing with to see why they were shouting and if they were upset.  They were not.  From their perspective they were just replying casually.  From my perspective it seemed like the person was agitated.  This is classic.

When you add exclamation points to sentences…it makes them read differently!  Understand?!!!  That was an emphatic interrobang by the way.  Its a fun party word.  Look it up.  While you’re at it, make sure you’re not one of the people adding to the email exclamation point epidemic.  Type how you talk by talking out what you type, i.e. read your email aloud as you’ve written it and amend before sending.  If something really requires 3+ exclamation points, perhaps the phone would be a better option.


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