In Defense of the Exclamation Mark
Ellie Kime is back to discuss the politics of a particular piece of email etiquette…
Upon first draft, none of my emails sound like this.
They literally all – and I mean all! – sound like this!!! Exclamation marks abound!! Full stops? I don’t KNOW her! Their tall lines stud the paragraphs, ascending from the page, elevating the text from amicable to EXCITABLE. (Sometimes there’s capitals and an exclamation mark, because god forbid I don’t get my excitement across!) They’re spiky and commanding, yet soft and encouraging, getting your heart racing and warmed in equal measure. In essence, I bloody! Love! An! Exclamation! Mark!
And once I’m done crafting The World’s Most Excitable Email ™️, I sit back, I sip tea, I survey my kingdom – everywhere the light touches on that email, Ellie, is yours, etc etc – and I realise that I probably need to reduce the exclamation count by about 30% (at a conservative estimate). Though I type as I speak, it could be read by the wrong eyes as super shouty, even though I categorically know I don’t scream in people’s faces in person (unless I’m drunk and doing karaoke. Even then it’s harmonious shout-singing – any rumours that it’s non-harmonious are down to unideal acoustics and nothing more).
However, as someone who straddles the cusp of Millennial and Gen Z, (A Zillennial?) that just sounds like a bad early 00s Hollywood relationship. Which I think shows you exactly what age I am – emails with no exclamation marks in are at best mildly worrisome, and at worst TERRIFYING. We’ve all seen a tweet or 50 expressing concern at the perceived severity of a full stop in an email, and the ensuing panic at what grave sin you’ve committed to warrant it, but it’s so true: we all know that nowadays the true, unquestionably neutral way to end a sentence is just to not end it, finishing with no punctuation whatsoever. However, this doesn’t really work with business emails as well as it does with tweets and instagram captions, so slum it with the panic-inducing full stop every now and again we must.
The urge to soften an email is not a bad thing at all. You can want your email to be pleasant without it having to be fluffy; it can be colloquial whilst still being substantial. For a lot of people, conversational is the new professional – communication online is constantly changing (as Gretchen McCulloch details in the fascinating Because Internet, a book I’m devouring at the moment), as are our jobs and occupations. It’s only natural, then, that we want to ensure our emails are received in the way they’re intended, as more and more work is taken online. We’re aiming for friendly and approachable, yet authoritative and respectable. We’re also aiming for a style that fits across the board, both with those who’ve been emailing since 1990something, and those who are the right age to understand TikTok. Finally, we’re often aiming for an email that’s going to make us stand out in an inbox that’s swimming in applications or pitches, and that’ll take away, rather than add to inbox overwhelm as that red dot climbs higher and higher.
So, in lieu of every sentence finishing with an exclamation mark to express your enthusiasm for something, here’s a few other ways you can make your emails a joy to receive:
Leave your recipients with a good taste in their mouth – make the last words they read great ones. My email signature says “Love, hugs, and (slightly more professional) best wishes”, because though I love the sentiment of best wishes, I see the words so often I don’t even register them anymore…
When I’m writing an email on the go, my iPhone signature says “Written from my iPhone – your email was so exciting I just couldn’t wait!” (Sometimes I delete it when I’ve taken a week to reply – obviously).
The Just Not Sorry plugin is one that helps highlight where you’ve used words which undermine your message. Inspired by Tara Mohr and others, it was developed to help people (women especially) write emails that don’t diminish their voice, but instead bolster it. Commonly used qualifying words and phrases – “just”, “sorry”, “think” – are underlined so that you can assess whether they’re actually necessary. It really helps me nail down my point, and strip back the fluff, to get my point across authentically and confidently (and enthusiastically).
This article is a part of Ellie’s Guilty Pleasure series. Loved it? Check out her piece defending Basic Bitches here!