"Fat exclamation mark made from jigsaw puzzle pieces" on flickr, by Horia Varlan (CC BY 2.0)I like exclamation marks: They’re friendly. They’re energetic. They help keep things light.

They’re also often overused.

In personal communication, I use exclamation marks when I’m happy, excited, or for emphasis. In fact, I’d say I use them pretty liberally. For news releases, however, I’ve used them rarely – if ever – and in other business communication I’ve always felt I used them judiciously.

Even so, a fellow writer once commented on my use of them, and I’ve since tried to use them even more sparingly.

Overwhelmed by exclamation marks

As much as I love this simple little piece of punctuation, a recent email highlighted for me that sparse truly is best! I won’t use the specific message here, but it went a little something like this:

We have an event coming up! You can celebrate Mother’s Day!
You could win a prize! We’d love to see you there!

After one brief paragraph, I felt like I was facing a too-perky barista waiting for my morning coffee — and they weren’t handing it over. It was excitement overload in written form.

Does your writing hyperventilate?

Whether to use exclamation marks is a small point, and as with most things writing-related it’s subjective. I think they do have a place – a very special, minimally-used place.

Make sure they serve a purpose in your story; take a breath and read your email or article out loud. Check for exclamation points, and ensure what you’ve written doesn’t sound overly hyper.

What does CP Style say?

According to the Canadian Press Stylebook, the exclamation mark is a strong mark of punctuation that should not be overused.

“Use it to denote great surprise, a command, deep emotion, emphasis and sarcasm.”

“Do not use an exclamation mark to end a mildly exclamatory sentence.”

I agree! Do you?