The exclamation point has gone from an occasionally used punctuation mark designed to show strong emotion (including anger, excitement or happiness) to an overused, overwhelming mess at the end of every sentence.
Don't know when to use an exclamation point properly? Here are a few guidelines:
- Exclamation points should be used with care or they lose their effectiveness. If you write a paragraph and realize that every sentence ends with an exclamation point, go back and change a few of them to periods or combine a few sentences using semicolons. It'll make your writing much more clean, and the exclamation points you do use will have more power.
- Use exclamation points only when you want to convey a strong message. As I mentioned before, exclamation points generally draw attention to strong feelings like excitement, happiness, or anger. They can also be used for imperative statements, but be careful how you use them. The phrase Please do not touch! seems a lot harsher with an exclamation point instead of a period — although if you really want to scare people away from leaving their dirty fingerprints on that art piece, maybe that's the way to go.
- Only use one exclamation point at the end of a sentence. Using five of them doesn't make your sentence any more exciting — it annoys the reader and weakens your writing. An exclamation point, by definition, signals emotion, so adding multiple is the equivalent of writing things like very, very happy. It doesn't add anything to the sentence.
I will admit that I sometimes overuse exclamation points and add them to multiple sentences in the same paragraph, but it is something I'm working on. I'm trying to rediscover the lost art that is the period: simple, stately and succinct.
Do you find yourself using exclamation points too often? Any other tips on stopping yourself?