The office workers of America are guilty of a grievous sin. I’ve done it, and chances are you have too. If you haven’t, you most certainly have had it done to you.
I’m talking, of course, about the gluttonous use of the exclamation point in a work email. A damnable act, for sure, but salvation is within reach.
First, let’s identify the transgressors. Do you fall into any of these categories?
▪ New hires. They are often eager to show their earnestness, promise and I’m-just-so-happy-to-be-here attitude. The exclamation mark comes out in full force in their emails. Some poor souls even do this when communicating with superiors. At first, newbies get a pass. But the longer you use ‘em, the harder to lose ‘em. If you don’t shut this behavior down quickly (no later than, say, three months), you will become lost, relegated to a life of wandering the punctuation desert.
▪ Reciprocal users. When these well-meaning workers see ! in an email to themselves, they can’t help but put some in their response. After all, one good turn deserves another. Or maybe they simply feel obligated. Breaking from this self-inflicted peer pressure is tough, but it can be done with discipline, willpower and the right attitude.
▪ Excited closers. They feel the need to add a little more oomph to their sign-off. “Thanks” and “many thanks” are the signatures most seen abetting the exclamation point. When did those words become so weak they needed a crutch to steady them? And shouldn’t gratitude include at least some level of humility? (Some may not even realize they do this, but, as the courts have shown, ignorance is not a justification for wrongdoing.)
▪ The sarcastic. These clever folks use exclamation marks under the guise of sincerity, eagerness and joy though the real intended usage is mostly sardonic. Personally, I applaud the usage in these instances.
▪ Human exclamation points. These people are chipper and peppy in email and real life. They not only use exclamation marks, they embody them. They seem to enjoy life and appear happy, but I am skeptical, at best.
So how can we get clean? How can we free ourselves from the shackles of melodramatic messaging, brownnosing notes, or insincere email excitement?
There’s only one way. We have to go cold turkey.
Cut it off at the root, before the practice has a chance to grow into a weed that chokes the professional life out of your email communications. Once you quit, you'll notice that beyond making things seem louder than they need to be, there’s not much benefit to using them.
Remember: Keep your business emails to the point and focused on your task at hand. Let your nouns, verbs, commas and periods do the work. They are more than capable, and they look nicer.
Daniel DiPrinzio is the director of communications at Arcadia University.