Exclamation Marks!!!!!Posted: September 20, 2007
Do you have a problem with punctuation? Wonder where to put those commas? Debate when you should use a colon or a semicolon? Fed up with exclamation marks?
During a recent lunch with a freelancer friend who used to be an editor, she told me how fed up she became with writers who sent in manuscripts with excessive punctuation, especially exclamation marks.
I could understand her frustration. I had just finished copyediting a national consumer magazine, so the topic was fresh in my mind. The magazine usually offers no pay to contributing writers. As a result, before editing, a majority of the submitted articles reflect their beginner status. (Professional writers usually do not contribute to publications that don’t pay for their work).
When I receive manuscripts for copyediting, many of them contain multiple exclamation marks. Some writers use three or four marks at a time to stress a point or to convey emotion. That’s the exact opposite of what stylebooks like the Chicago Manual of Style advise: “To avoid detracting from effectiveness … the author should use this punctuation sparingly.”
While aspiring writers may love multiple exclamation marks, other people hate them, including readers of blogs and forums. Look at the words of one person (calling himself/herself Jaffa Cake) who posted this opinion on the Mac Forum boards some time ago:
“People who use exclamation marks really wind me up. You can make your point well enough by using just one of them at the end of a sentence; there really is no need to go all !!!!!!!!!!! on us. Multiple exclamation marks are the sign of an untidy mind or something.”
So what’s the right way to handle exclamation marks? According to the Chicago Manual of Style, “An exclamation point is used to make an outcry or an emphatic or ironic comment.”
In certain usages, the mark is extremely valuable. Oklahoma! would not convey the excitement of that hit musical if its title were merely Oklahoma. The exclamation mark (a single mark) is a useful tool when you want to write something like, “Watch out for that truck!” he yelled. Or, “How could you possibly believe that!” Or, “How wonderful!” she exclaimed. Or, “Fire!”
Using multiple exclamation marks would not make these expressions stronger or more exciting. They would merely brand you as a writer who does not know better (or you have an untidy mind or something).
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