No Exclamations Week: A 20K Writing Challenge

We should start out by clarifying something—we don’t have a problem with exclamation marks. We actually like them. A lot. Our favorite punctuation mark (you know you work with writing nerds when there are discussions around these sorts of things) is helpful for expressing sincere, genuine and enthusiastic emotions. (Have you ever tried to wish a friend a happy birthday on Facebook without one? It’s difficult, and comes off more than a little stilted and weird). However, we noticed that exclamation marks were creeping into communications they had no business being in, especially work correspondence. We love our clients and the work we do for them, but that doesn’t mean that every request has to be acknowledged with, “Fantastic! We’ll get right on it! Have a great day!” Exclamation marks had become a crutch to escape deliberate, conscious thought about what and why we were writing. So, we gave them up. For one week, we tracked our usage of exclamation marks in emails, texts, tweets, Facebook posts and all other forms of communication. Here are some of our takeaways from a “long and non-enthusiastic week.”
The Wall of Shame

The Wall of Shame

There is always a time and a place for exclamation points. Throughout the week, our most consistent offenders, Courtenay and Amy, decided that there were certain occasions that just needed exclamation marks and were willing to accept a sticky note on the wall of shame. The difference? They saved them for situations and sentiments that truly warranted a strong (usually positive) expression. (Like the “It was great to meet you on Saturday!” email Courtenay sent to Sarah Jaffe. How could you not use an ! It was really darn exciting.)

The struggle is real.

But—and this is a big BUT—there are many times and places where the vertical line and its poppy little dot are, not only unnecessary, but downright overused. Ask yourself, “Is this really exclamation-worthy?” About 80% of the time, it’s probably not. You don’t have to sound like you’ve just imbibed all of the coffee at Blacksmith, Inversion, Antidote AND Southside. Let’s get real. No one needs to sound cheerleader chipper all of the time. When you take advantage of our exclamatory friend, she starts to lose her power. Depending on a punctuation mark to do the heavy lifting makes you (and by you, we mean us) a lazy writer. Find a way to express emotion through actual words and save the ! for the times with you really need a little zing!zip!zow! in your message.
Courtenay (and her iPhone) now save exclamation marks for special occasions.

Courtenay (and her iPhone) now save exclamation marks for special occasions.

The final Wall of Shame tally wound up being: Courtenay, 15; Amy, 14; Gemrick, 5; and Debbie, 4. Although we weren’t perfect by any means, we started to think more about what we were trying to convey with our writing and saving exclamation marks for their intended purpose – conveying powerful emotion. As the “loser” of the exclamation mark challenge, our Vice President, Courtenay, will be subjected to the grammarian version of dog-shaming. You can probably guess what this will look like based the photo below. (Note from Courtenay: This is what I get for creating this challenge in the first place. I accept my punishment gracefully and cheerfully!)

Dog Shaming

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