Last night I was typing up my son’s homework, (I know, I know, but he was using my computer and is painfully slow).
After writing millions of words in my career, I’m a very quick typist. I can type without looking at the keyboard. In fact, I can type with my eyes closed, which I have to confess is a pretty lame party trick.
My son read out a sentence he wanted me to type and told me to put an exclamation mark at the end. It was at this point that I realised something that surprised me. I had no idea where the exclamation mark was on the keyboard. After a lot of searching, I finally located it above the number 1 on the top left.
I can find brackets, speech marks and the question mark without blinking so I asked myself why I couldn’t find the exclamation.
I realised that it’s because it’s something I rarely use. Journalists call an exclamation mark a screamer and see it as a form of shouting. Good writing is measured and clear and it doesn’t need to shout to make its point.
Of course, I’m not saying you should never use this punctuation mark. There will be times when a judicious exclamation mark can emphasise a point. There will be times a sentence just doesn’t work without it. But if you are littering your documents with them, it will probably come across as a bit over-excited rather than professional.
Use them sparingly if at all and your work will be better for it.