The naughty exclamation point!

In honor of National Punctuation Day, I’d like to offer a few tips on exclamation point usage. Of all the punctuation out there, why the exclamation point, you ask? Because I’m seeing a naughty trend in how y’all are using it. #ShameOnYou

Before we get to the naughtiness, let’s get something clear: Exclamation points are the cheerleaders and rabblerousers of the punctuation world. As such, you should only use one when you have a truly strong emotion–excited, mad, elated, indignant, astonished, etc–about whatever is in the sentence it is capping off (yep, I know that’s a dangling participle).

Now for the naughty: We (and by ‘we’, I mean ‘you’) are all too frequently making the poor exclamation point do the yucky work of masking a sub-awesome reality.

A few examples and suggestions:

    • “The office coffee machine is broken. Good thing there’s a Starbucks just half a mile away!” If you’re used to being able to amble down the hall to get your fix, trudging half a mile is not an adequate substitute. And you know it. Person up and say something like: “The office coffee machine broke. We can either all snip at each other all day or you can take your bad selves down to the Starbucks. The walk will do you good. The machine will be fixed tomorrow. Deal.”
    • “We didn’t meet our fundraising goals this past quarter. But there’s always next quarter!” Are you really feeling pumped about not meeting your fundraising goals? Probably not. No amount of exclamation points is going to fix the fact that you didn’t meet your goals. Having said that, it’s also not the end of the world. But you do need to address what’s going on and have a discussion about how you propose to move forward. That means having a conversion. That means you need a question mark. “We didn’t meet our fundraising goals this past quarter. Why do you think that is and how can we work as a team to hit them next quarter?”

And your donors see through your exclamation points as well. If you overuse them, they lose their impact. Use them sparingly. If you find yourself sticking an exclamation point on everything, it probably means you’re using boring words (like, say, provide). Let your exclamation points take a nap while you forage for some spunkier words.

[Looking for more tips on using language to increase your impact? Check out Pitchfalls: why bad pitches happen to good people. Sneak peak available right here.]