Exclamation points: the cayenne pepper of writing

One of the best copywriters I know has few pet peeves about the craft of writing but makes an exception when it comes to exclamation points. She believes we should all be allotted a limited number of them at birth, and once we’ve exhausted our supply, we can’t use any more.

It’s her way of suggesting that the simple but powerful exclamation point (!) is overused. (Its power is reflected in its longtime nickname among typographers and designers: a “bang.”)

By adding an exclamation point to a simple declaration, it becomes far more urgent, commanding, or exciting. Say, “Go get the dog,” and your child will slowly rise, amble out the door, and come back eventually. Snap “Go get the dog!,” and the same child will leap out of the room.

That power leads some people to tuck exclamation points at the end of every sentence, because they think what they’re writing will sound more important. What it really does is make them sound like they’ve consumed too much coffee. Others mistakenly believe multiple exclamation points add impact to a sentence. However, using one is a little like raising your voice just below a shout. But adding three or four is like yelling, waving your arms and jumping up and down on one foot. You’ll get attention, but only because you’ll look like an idiot.

I like to think of exclamation points as the cayenne pepper of writing. A touch here and there adds heat and flavor to your words. Too many, and you can’t concentrate on the food because you’re in pain.