40

So when people send me professional correspondence in which I'm expected to reply, I sometimes interject exclamation marks in the message, as an emphasizing point.

For instance, if the question "Hey, I noticed you on LinkedIn, and would like to see if you wanted to apply to position X. Please let me know if you're interested, etc."

I would answer with something like:

Hello Mr Y, thanks for reaching out to me for this position! After taking a look at the qualifications for the position, I would love to apply for it, but I do have a few questions first....etc.

Most of the time, I use it when saying thanks, or to show an extra interest in a particular topic, but I'm curious as to how that's being taken by others, hence my question.

Is using an exclamation mark in professional correspondence....professional?

  • 4
    A related (though closed) question: "Is using emoticons in correspondence with co-workers okay?" – David K Feb 14 '17 at 16:20
  • 5
    @DavidK I saw that one, but I felt like Emoticons are so informal as opposed to punctuation, but I haven't seen anything but informal communications using them, so I'm curious at to how they're usually viewed by people that you're not on an informal basis with. – Anoplexian Feb 14 '17 at 16:26
  • 3
    Better answered here: english.stackexchange.com/questions/123202/… – Brandin Feb 14 '17 at 17:04
  • 1
    youtube.com/watch?v=wyRLFWF2v_U – marsh Feb 14 '17 at 20:11
  • Perhaps by coincidence, this question now features exclamation points in the caption description for 'protected'. It all depends on the context. Quoting spoken dialog is the most common situation to use it. Expressing genuine surprise could be another, e.g. As I turned on my computer this morning, I discovered that all of my files are gone! The '!' is a signal to the reader that this was not expected. – Brandin Feb 15 '17 at 7:33
61

Like just about anything it all depends on the context. There is nothing specifically unprofessional about the general use of the exclamation point. But like anything there are times and places where it is not appropriate.

Some basic guidelines:

  • If you can replace the exclamation point with a period with out changing the statement then the period is probably the correct and more professional choice.
  • If you have more than one exclamation point on a page then you should consider rephrasing as needed to avoid the need for the exclamation point.
  • When delivering or conveying bad news try to avoid them entirely. They can seem overly dramatic and seem insensitive.
  • 14
    +1 for never using more than one per page. Its subtle, but that's very good advice. – ThunderGuppy Feb 14 '17 at 18:06
  • 5
    "If you can replace the exclamation point with a period with out changing the statement" When is this not the case? – Anthony Grist Feb 14 '17 at 22:49
  • 46
    @AnthonyGrist: A: "I'm thinking of deleting the production database. Is that a good idea?" B: "No!" In this exchange, removing the exclamation mark would change the statement dramatically. The exclamation mark conveys that not only is this not a good idea, it is a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad idea. – wchargin Feb 14 '17 at 23:24
  • 16
    @AnthonyGrist "And guess what? He did it!" means you are happy that he did it. "And guess what? He did it." sounds like you are not amused that he did it. – WorksOdd Feb 15 '17 at 7:27
  • 6
    @wchargin - While few situations warrant using all caps, that .. might be one of them ;-) Seriously though, great example. It illustrates the distinction perfectly. – Leigh Feb 15 '17 at 11:58
33

No, they are not bad. All grammatical constructs have their purpose and when judiciously and appropriately used, exclamation marks are no different.

Exclamation points were originally called the “note of admiration.” They are still, to this day, used to express excitement. They are also used to express surprise, astonishment, or any other such strong emotion. Any exclamatory sentence can be properly followed by an exclamation mark, to add additional emphasis. After all, isn’t it a lot more exciting to say “I am excited!” then to say “I am excited.” Read more at http://grammar.yourdictionary.com/punctuation/when/when-to-use-exclamation-marks.html#cLIuFSRggwewIBaS.99

In an age where typed communication is more common than verbal, punctuation can play a crucial role in getting across the intent of what we're trying to say. Just don't go overboard. Use a single mark and use it when it fits the tone of your message.

  • Thanks! That's the final piece I needed to complete the project.
  • We're already late and it needs to be done by Friday or we're facing a fine!
5

Is using an exclamation mark in professional correspondence....professional?

Yes and no. This is one of those areas where there is no real standard, even geographically or culturally. A few industries known for being conservative (big law, finance, public sector) tend to frown on non-standard or overly "enthusiastic" language use, particularly at the higher levels, but outside those there are no set guidelines. They are almost universally considered unacceptable for formal writing but these days business correspondence falls somewhere between formal and informal.

So is their use unprofessional? No, I can't unequivocally say that it is. But the risk you run when you use this kind of punctuation is that you can't tell what the recipients' stance on the matter is. And an awful lot of people do still think less of anyone who feels the need to use this kind of punctuation. That can range from wondering why you're so excited to being annoyed at your forced and/or fake enthusiasm about the TPS reports. I have a few colleagues who do this to "show that they're on the ball" and all my colleagues who don't use them think it's ridiculous.

The classic ways to add emphasis are use of bold, cursive and the now also largely outdated underline. Stick with those and use the exclamation mark sparingly, if indeed at all. While it's not outright unprofessional, it's not a habit I would encourage anyone to develop and if I was in a mentor role for someone who did this I'd suggest that they stop.

3

Your example is fine! You've only used one, and you've used it in good context.

I once had a colleague who would utilise exclamation marks to the extreme (in internal emails and, occasionally, correspondence with suppliers), which did indeed come across as extremely unprofessional!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • It doesn't help that some screens tend to color exclamation marks written like that in red.... – Anoplexian Feb 14 '17 at 23:23
  • 8
    I didn't downvote, but the first sentence immediately strikes me as unprofessional. Exclamation marks indicate, if not yelling, at least a raised voice. If I had asked this question, and you had enthusiastically and loudly replied "Your example is fine!", I think you would sound like a crazy person. – DCShannon Feb 15 '17 at 0:36
  • 2
    @DCShannon: Well we will just have to disagree on that then won't we. The exclamation mark is used in response to no fewer than six paragraphs worrying about a single exclamation mark. It's ironic usage. Maybe this is a cultural difference. – Lightness Races in Orbit Feb 15 '17 at 10:07
  • 3
    This does not answer the wider question – Jan Doggen Feb 15 '17 at 10:33
  • 2
    @LightnessRacesinOrbit it's an example that doesn't actually contain an example of what is the unprofessional behavior. – enderland Feb 15 '17 at 16:16
3

Exclamation marks are most useful to indicate that quoted speech is especially emphatic, for example 'The policeman shouted "stop!". This is a way of conveying tone and emphasis in speech which may not come across well when it is written down.

However if you are writing in your own words, they should be used with caution. In general professional correspondence should adopt a reasonably measured and neutral tone . The problem is that in written rather than reported speech it is not that clear exactly what emphasis they are adding and they can end up giving your writing a bit of a manic edge.

Also in written communication, especially in a professional context, there is an expectation that you take the time to use language a bit more carefully and concisely than you might in normal speech and exclamation marks may be seen as a bit of a crude way to add emphasis when you could just have got it across in your choice of phrasing.

There is also the fact that in the last couple of years they are increasingly associated with clickbate type trash internet pages 'What these 12 celebrities look like now will astonish you !' not to mention scam emails etc.

Personally I would leave them well alone except in reported speech.

  • To be fair, a few of the most atrocious pieces of text that I have ever stumbled upon where from a professional context. Nowadays too many people resort to "facebookisms" while writing professional emails. – T. Sar Feb 15 '17 at 10:51
0

Whenever you're writing something, especially professionally, consider how it would sound if read aloud.

Exclamation points indicate the emphasis that comes from raising your voice or even yelling, as opposed to the emphasis indicated by italics, which is still at a normal volume but simply emphasized.

Raised voices and yelling are generally considered unprofessional at work. Don't add an exclamation point to something unless it would sound perfectly natural to say it in a raised voice standing among all the cubes in your office.

When I read an email with exclamation points, the writer often sounds manic. In your example, I would finish the first sentence and wonder why you're yelling at me. Be very careful with them.

  • It's a bit odd to think of someone saying "Thanks." and not sounding at the very least mildly sarcastic with it, if I'm being honest. – Anoplexian Feb 16 '17 at 22:41
  • @Anoplexian I'm not certain what you mean. Are you saying you think that 'thanks' should always be followed by an exclamation point? If you always raise your voice when you say thanks, then go ahead an put an exclamation point in there. That's completely consistent with what I'm saying. – DCShannon Feb 16 '17 at 22:52
  • No, but when you put "as opposed to the emphasis indicated by italics, which is still at a normal volume but simply emphasized." I feel like that's not necessarily true in a lot of cases, as exclamation points aren't always yelling LIKE CAPS ARE. Neat! – Anoplexian Feb 16 '17 at 23:32
  • @Anoplexian Well a "raised voice" is different than yelling, but alright. – DCShannon Feb 16 '17 at 23:33

protected by enderland Feb 14 '17 at 22:46

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.