The Atlantic posted a wonderful article from Ben Blatt who wrote the book Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve: What the Numbers Reveal About the Classics, Bestsellers, and Our Own Writing. In the article, Blatt posts the following pictograph that shows the number of exclamation points used by authors per 100,000 words written:
Notice how the more prolific a writer, the less he or she used exclamation points.
What is an exclamation point?
Exclamation points, also called exclamation marks, are punctuation marks that are meant to be used at the end of a sentence to display admiration or express excitement, astonishment, or some other strong emotion. The most common use, however, is after an interjection like "Hey!" or "Wow!" or "Oh!"
Some people go relatively mad with their exclamation marks. Have you ever received a text from someone ending with "?!?!?!?!" They’re obviously asking you a question and expressing their shock or dismay at the same time.
What the experts say about exclamation points.
Most formal writing frowns on exclamation points. Some marketing brands will use exclamation marks, but are typically those in the B2C arena. B2B brands rarely use exclamation points, and academia has little patience for it.
Exclamation point use will depend on your editor and publisher and even your genre. If you’re publishing comic books, there’s a big use of exclamation marks involved. If you’re publishing for one of the academic presses, though, you’ll want to rid your prose of any such marks.
Situations to avoid exclamation marks include:
A college term paper that is 50% of your grade.
A highly professional email to the hiring manager when you’re applying for a job.
A blog post where you already used one exclamation point.
Using exclamation marks in quotes.
Put the exclamation mark inside the closing quotation marks if it applies to the words enclosed by the quotation marks.
- “There’s a spider on my arm!” yelped Jeremy.
If the exclamation mark applies to the sentence as a whole, then place it at the very end.
- And then the paramedics tried to tell Jeremy it was “only a spider”!
Using exclamation marks in parentheses.
Put the exclamation mark inside the parentheses when it applies to the words inside the parentheses.
- Jeremy didn’t find out until later what kind of spider it was (a black widow!).
Put the exclamation mark outside the parentheses if it applies to the whole sentence.
- They settled out of court and Jeremy got a million dollars (cash)!
If you’re still unsure whether to insert an exclamation point or two, HubSpot has created the ideal flowchart to help you decide:
Better for your readers and your reputation is to use amazing word choices to entice your readers and get them excited. Exciting content that people want to read needs no adornment; it’s enough that it’s compelling and engaging and grabs their attention.
Shoot for that instead of trotting out the old exclamation mark.
Not done with exclamation points? You can also check out the article “Exclamation Points Don’t Have to Be Useless!”