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Are we using ! too much?

When are exclamation points right? When are they unnecessary?


Posted October 8, 2010 by Diane Seo

With the exception of some blog posts, I edit all the copy that runs on Nonstop. Typically, my routine is to wake up at 5 a.m., log into our content management system and read the copy in our editorial queue.

It might be because of the early hour, but what I find myself often editing out are exclamation points. I do mull it over before I replace the exuberant exclamation point with the less exciting period. After all, the last thing I want to do is squash a writer’s passion. And I personally use the ! all the time in email. (Not doing so can seem a little rude or cold.) But with my long history in the newspaper biz, where exclamation points are typically stamped out, I can’t help but feel uncertain whenever the increasingly popular ! crops up in copy.

Is it overly emotional? Unnecessary? Even a little juvenile?

I wonder all these things, then typically find myself deleting a few of the !s I encounter. Generally, I leave them in blog posts. After all, these are people’s blogs, which are first person narratives. I feel perfectly entitled to correct spelling and grammar, but if someone feels like saying, “The food was great!” who am I to change it to “The food was great,” even though readers will get the idea both ways.

But for non-blog copy, which are typically gallery captions, I take more liberties to keep the tone consistent. For instance, in Melissa Chang’s Chopsticks & Wine gallery, I deleted a few exclamation points.

Here’s one example. The original sentence was: “The red wine peppercorn short ribs from Le Bistro were to die for!” I didn’t think it lost much to take the ! out. But I kept this next caption as is, because the ! added tone: “Detour: Some of my old-time Facebook friends. We stop and talk. I’m already out of sequence for the food!”

Anyway, I have no hard rules on the matter. Newspaper copy editors do have rules on why exclamation points are unnecessary, but in this new media age, where more personal journalism has come into vogue, old rules have become old fashioned. We want readers to feel our emotions and excitement. After all, how are they supposed to get excited about what we’re writing about if we keep a sullen, distant tone?

I’m curious what you think about exclamation points. You like seeing them? Do we use them too much? Too little? Do tell…

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Comments


  1. chant808
    Posted October 7, 2010 at 11:36 pm

    Lol, Diane. I remember your reaction when we got our VIP Pick email interviews (from some pretty famous people) with 5-6 exclamation marks in a row. (ZOMG, Zippy’s Chili is the best thing EVAR!!!11!1!!!) It’s like some people think the more exclamation marks they tack onto the end of a sentence, the more happiness or excitement they’re conveying. Personally, I find more than one tacky, and I only use them for casual conversations.

  2. Harrycovair
    Posted October 7, 2010 at 11:39 pm

    I like Non Stop Honolulu! Traffic Alert! Most ono! Burp! OMG!
    I like Non Stop Honolulu. Traffic Alert. Most ono. Burp. OMG.

    I can see your point about the “!”. There are certain instances that an exclamation point might be worthy. One other option is all caps but that doesn’t seem professional for a e-zine like NSHNL. I guess from a first person narrative one way to get the point across is to use the exclamation point. A sort of expression to say “this is the one” or an expression of absoluteness.

    As for me, I don’t mind seeing the exclamation point especially when its used to denote a dish or food serving that was overwhelmingly delicious and to die for. It adds to the writers sense of awe that this food dish was unimaginably delicious or uniquely colorful and tasty.

    As for me, I don’t use exclamation points that much in my write ups but online, well that’s another story.

    As you said Diane, it’s the Editor’s choice as to whether you leave the writers written words verbatim or if you choose to edit it would you lose the sense of “exclamation” that the writer wanted to get across.

  3. Posted October 8, 2010 at 12:05 am

    I’m guilty of overusing the exclamation mark, but I also try to take it out when it’s unneeded. Unfortunately it’s difficult to read emotion through text and some people may take it personally if the lack of exclamation mark conveys less emotion than you originally intended. This is why I tread cautiously with my choice of punctuation.

  4. melissa808
    Posted October 8, 2010 at 12:36 am

    LOL!!!!! Nah, I’m like @sushi, guilty of exclamation overuse but try to tread cautiously in order to convey the right emotion. But I think since I blog & tweet, sometimes my brain wiring has a hard time differentiating the tone when I’m doing a story.

  5. macnut
    Posted October 8, 2010 at 1:18 am

    I’m still surprised at the number of “professional” copywriters that use ! or !!!!. Like a former boss used to say… one ! is acceptable (maybe), any more than that is so high school newspaper!!!! (<= sarcasm).

    And don’t even get me started on double spaces between sentences! It’s called typesetting… not pounding out a letter on a typewriter.

  6. Posted October 8, 2010 at 1:54 am

    I’m a frequent user of ! as well, but I’m trying to kick the habit. When I write an email I try to use no more than 2. When I tweet I try to use a variety of ! and :) without over using either. It can be a challenge to portray emotion through text, but the best writers can do it without a ton of extra punctuation. I try to avoid ALLCAPS as much as possible as it should be reserved to REALLY trying to prove a point (almost too much emotion sometimes if you ask me).

    All in all it depends on the audience, the platform, and person.

  7. DianeSeo
    Posted October 8, 2010 at 2:52 am

    @jennalanger Good points. That’s interesting that you have a rule of no more than 2 for email. I too am not a fan of ALLCAPS, but I have to say I’m a lot more comfortable with !s in copy, just not too many of them.

  8. Posted October 8, 2010 at 2:54 am

    @jennalanger I like the two or fewer ! per email rule. I may have to start implementing that by extending email to any piece of copy. Exception: obvious silliness.

  9. DianeSeo
    Posted October 8, 2010 at 2:56 am

    @Sushi I know what you mean about the lack of exclamation marks seeming rude. For instance, I just replied to an email from Mari Taketa, where she reminded me of a dinner meet-up we have. I replied with a simple “It’s on my calendar!” At first, I didn’t have the exclamation point, but then when I reread it seemed rude, like I was irritated that she was reminding me. So I went back and added the exclamation point and all of a sudden, it came off friendly. Funny how this works in this day and age, huh?

  10. Posted October 8, 2010 at 3:00 am

    @DianeSeo That is funny. We’ve become desensitized to the presence of exclamation marks in our writing. Even though I’m also guilty, it still irks the writer in me at times.

  11. DianeSeo
    Posted October 8, 2010 at 3:00 am

    @harrycovair Yes, a few years ago, I think I would have edited most of the !s out, but while working on Metromix, I had a change of heart and the ! kind of grew on me and I now sort of like it, although my test is: Can this sentence live without it and still convey the same message?

  12. DianeSeo
    Posted October 8, 2010 at 3:03 am

    @chant808 Yes, I remember that email reply from a certain local celeb. I was pretty horrified how many times the ! was used, but at the same time, it made me understand his personality better. I’d never met him, but I got him just from that email. I think I did edit out most of the !s though…

    That’s funny that you remember that.

  13. MichaelTdj
    Posted October 8, 2010 at 3:11 am

    Hi. I’m certainly no journalist. But I do a lot of writing. The one thing you said that stood out was that your background is newspaper writing. My first thought was, well, this ain’t a newspaper. Those are where some hard & fast rules almost always apply. One of the cool things about the whole democratization of information dissemination is that people start making their own ideas & rules. The ones that stick go viral and spread. I appreciate your taking into account that blogs are personal in nature. I’m sure that means a lot to the people who write for you. Finally, it seemed to me the ! was better left in where you took it out and out where you chose to leave it. If anything, your post will force your readers to at least pause when considering the use of the exclamation point. And that’s good news! ;)

  14. DianeSeo
    Posted October 8, 2010 at 3:17 am

    @MichaelTdj Thanks for the comments; very thoughtful. Yeah, now that I think about it, I see what you mean about the fact that I may have taken out the ! in the wrong place and left it in where it was unnecessary. It’s so subjective; that’s why I find myself often on the fence about it.

  15. MaxMaxMax
    Posted October 8, 2010 at 5:32 am

    @macnut That is one of my biggest pet peeves–double spaces between periods. That, and people who use apostrophes to pluralize not standard words, like 70′s, when it should be 70s… or ’70s rather since the ‘ takes the place of 19. Man, I’d better not get started here, LOL!

  16. MaxMaxMax
    Posted October 8, 2010 at 5:33 am

    @macnut Doh! I meant “…double spaces between ‘sentences.’” Figures that I’d have a typo in this of all posts!

  17. MaxMaxMax
    Posted October 8, 2010 at 5:36 am

    I overuse ! quite a bit in my correspondence to people. But even more than that, I overuse the ellipsis “…” I also use it out of its proper context as well. I just like the way it looks in my text.

  18. Posted October 8, 2010 at 5:42 am

    @MaxMaxMax I tototally over use ellipsis, but I love them so much…they get the point across perfectly :)

  19. Posted October 8, 2010 at 5:52 am

    @MaxMaxMax @macnut Originally in school we were taught 2 spaces between sentences. Once I got to computer class in 1998 they told us 1 space, and we were graded on following those instructions. Since I was trained that way now it’s definitely a pet peeve of mine as well.

  20. MaxMaxMax
    Posted October 8, 2010 at 5:56 am

    Has anyone ever read the book, “The Mac/PC is not a Typewriter?” It came out in the ’90s by Robin Williams, the queen of graphical typography. She covers all of these types of character usage in logos, headlines and copy! A must read…

    http://www.amazon.com/Mac-not-typewriter-Robin-Williams/dp/0201782634

  21. MaxMaxMax
    Posted October 8, 2010 at 6:18 am

    @jennalanger @macnut Yeah, that was a typewriter convention because the characters on typewriters were monospaced. The period was at the right edge of the space, so appeared to float in the center between sentences. The double space was instituted as a workaround for this. But even waaaaay back then, professional typesetters used single spaces; and when word processors (basically Macintoshes) came around for consumers (in the mid-’80s) with properly kerned text, then the single-space became an all-around convention.

  22. DianeSeo
    Posted October 8, 2010 at 6:28 am

    I didn’t realize so many of our Nonstop readers were language/word/punctuation geeks like me. Love it.

  23. nonstopmari
    Posted October 8, 2010 at 6:32 am

    @DianeSeo drat! now i’m self-conscious every time i use ! ! who wd’ve thot u’d get so many comments on ! ?! this is too funny!

  24. DianeSeo
    Posted October 8, 2010 at 6:34 am

    @nonstopmari I know. John just sent me an email saying he was feeling self conscious about it too. Haha. (The “haha” is another thing that I’ve adopted in my language arsenal. How otherwise can you say something is funny so quickly. Okay, that’s for the next blog…

  25. nonstopmari
    Posted October 8, 2010 at 6:38 am

    @DianeSeo yes ur msg came across as extremely enthusiastic. esp at 5:30 in the morning.

  26. macnut
    Posted October 8, 2010 at 7:31 am

    @MaxMaxMax +1. I’ve been to a few seminars with Robin back in the 90′s. She had some thoughtful insight and her books were really enlightening.

  27. macnut
    Posted October 8, 2010 at 7:37 am

    @MaxMaxMax @jennalanger This is why i depend on Find/Replace so much. Swap out the double for single spaces in one fell swoop! I think double spacing is fine for correspondence but when you’re typesetting a book, brochure or magazine layout, strict typesetting rules still need to be adhered to.

  28. melissa808
    Posted October 8, 2010 at 8:01 am

    @DianeSeo @nonstopmari Also, a couple of years ago I read a book called “Send.” http://amzn.to/cfXZHP It’s more about email, but the message is basically that we may convey the wrong feeling via email, text, or any written online document because it’s quick. Either we stop to think about what we’re writing, or we employ the use of :) or LOL or !! to add casual flair to it, lest we inadvertently offend someone. So that’s partly why I partake of these no-nos, at least in blogs and tweets!

  29. Harrycovair
    Posted October 8, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    @MaxMaxMax Guilty…! <— okay lol.

  30. Harrycovair
    Posted October 8, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    @jennalanger @MaxMaxMax Guilty…! <— okay lol.

  31. Posted October 9, 2010 at 4:14 am

    Aw, man. Why did you have to point this out? Ever since I started blogging a couple of years ago, I’ve slipped into the comfort of using ! all the time, even when it’s not warranted. Especially when it’s not warranted, actually. Now, when there are so many well-articulated comments here in this discussion, I feel like I’d be betraying my inner style Nazi if I continued to leave this habit unchecked. I will now take a pledge to not use unwarranted !s for a week. Actually, I’ll start with a day and see how that goes.

  32. turkfontaine
    Posted October 11, 2010 at 9:14 am

    unfortunately, i am an ignoramus who couldn’t write a cogent english sentence if my life depended on it, and i’m a total scofflaw. see? i don’t even capitalize, and i’m thinking of dropping whatever this thing (‘) is called from all contractions.

    i blame Tom Wolfe for the flood of exclamation points into the writing of the general public. at a deeper level, i think it is also one of many little symptoms of the post literate age. if we all brushed up on our Vico and Mcluhan, we wouldnt worry so much about it. see, that? you hardly noticed the absence of that (‘) thing.

    one thing i am atavistic about is paragraphs. i like them. i think they are useful. they are useful because they, like exclamation points and run-on sentences are a verbal, and verbal is what the post literate world is about.

  33. turkfontaine
    Posted October 11, 2010 at 9:18 am

    @Melissa808 @DianeSeo @nonstopmari ditto. LOL has probably saved me from many a digital fist o’ death from more than one heathen chinee woman, LOL !!

  34. Posted October 11, 2010 at 11:00 pm

    Upon further review…I’m guilty. No more exclamation points for me! I mean, for me. ;)

About Diane Seo

Diane Seo, the editor and co-founder of Nonstop Honolulu, is the Digital Media director for Upspring Media. Prior, she served as managing producer of Metromix Honolulu; manager of The Honolulu Advertiser's TGIF section; Managing Director of New Media for the ATP, which runs men's professional tennis worldwide; a senior editor at Salon.com and a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times.

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