Effective Business Writing | The Exclamation Mark!

Matthew MacLachlan

30 Nov 2010

Most purists would agree that there is no place for the exclamation mark in business writing. Punctuation should be clean and simple, there to guide the reader through the document and to add clarity to the message. The exclamation mark is overly emotive and loud, highlighting the writer’s inability to use words to express their thoughts. We can argue that good writers are able to use language effectively to emphasise key ideas or to demonstrate their enthusiasm rather than resorting to the shouting affect of this rather childish punctuation mark. The exclamation mark can have the same effect as overdoing the use of capital letters, bold or underlining.

However, with the reliance on email writing in many organisations as the main means of communication, and often the only method of building relationships with dispersed contacts, perhaps there is a small place for the exclamation mark in our professional email correspondence. As a writer at the Chicago Tribune recently observed.

The Use of Exclamation Marks

The exclamation mark can sometimes help us to build rapport and convey warmth and empathy with contacts we never or rarely meet. The secret is to use it sparingly and certainly never use more than one exclamation mark at a time. ‘It was so great to meet you last week!!!’ might not have the desired effect on your reader and could leave them feeling a little overwhelmed or even rather scared. That said, the occasional ‘Thanks for your help!’ or ‘Talk to you soon!’ can show that you are committed, enthusiastic and enjoy working with your recipient.

The key message is to use the exclamation mark sparingly. If you are guilty of overusing then consider how you can replicate the exclamation mark in other ways. If you are a purist who never uses the exclamation mark why not experiment with introducing one or two into emails to contacts you already know. Grammar and punctuation training courses can also be a really useful method of understanding current punctuation trends and usage in business communication.

 



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