Exclamation points: The drunk uncle of web copy

This is what I imagine the writers look like when I see a web page with exclamation points.

This is what I imagine the writers look like when I see a web page with exclamation points.

 

For a couple years now, I’ve been preaching to all who would hear me about the evil ways of the exclamation point. They are the scourge of web copy…leftovers from copy/pasted brochures onto poorly written web pages.

Most of the time, people just laugh at my schpeel and think, “Oh that’s just her thing. Some people hate the oxford comma; she hates exclamation points.”

No. Sometimes there is recourse for the oxford comma, but actually for the most part I hate those too. Quit clogging up sentences with unnecessary commas!

I digress. 

Getting up on my soapbox

In a heavily regulated industry, I can find VERY few things that truly need an exclamation point. Sure, there are things I get excited about. There are things I think our consumers should get excited about. But if the only way you can think to convey that excitement is through an exclamation point, then you are not doing your job right.

If you’re trying to evoke excitement, then write things that get your audience excited. I know that sounds like rocket science (being sarcastic here, stay with me), but that’s really all you have to do.

The minute you use an exclamation point in place of compelling copy, your reader loses trust. To millenials (and really anyone not living under a rock), an exclamation point in an otherwise professional website feels like when your grandma texts you for the first time in all caps and no punctuation, “HI HONEY THE WEATHER IS FINALLY WARMING UP I HOPE IT’S NICE WHERE YOU ARE HAVE YOU HEARD OF KELLY CLARKSON I REALLY LIKE HER WELL I LOVE YOU AND TAKE CARE AND POST MORE PICTURES ON THE FACEBOOK THANK YOU”

Don’t be the all caps grandma. Your readers deserve better than that.

Side note: this doesn’t refer to mine or my husband’s grandparents. They are hip and do things like text and read blogs with great enthusiasm. 

Help is on the way

My plan is to soldier on and continue to educate those within our company walls, as well as anyone else that could benefit from this extremely valuable lesson. But in the meantime, Hubspot has taken some of the work out of it for me. I present to you the decision tree of whether or not to use an exclamation point (spoiler alert: the answer is probably no).

Should I use an exclamation point - Hubspot flowchart

Source: Hubspot – Written by Beth Dunn and Tyler Littwin

 

(View the image here, if you’re having issues)

According to this, the only reasons to use an exclamation point is for a word that is actually an exclamation like, “Hey!”, “Whoa!” or “Oops!” or if you or someone else is on fire (and you still only get one exclamation for saying “Hey! I’m on fire.”), or if it’s something you would shout.

Now, if I look at the library of content I’ve created in a regulated industry over the course of almost four years, I can tell you the scenarios that have come up where I need to write any of those things is exactly zero.

We’re talking web copy, NOT characters or real life or fun emails.

To be clear, this mission against the exclamation point applies to web copy (and other forms of written materials that I don’t typically work on), but does not apply to your characters. Granted, I hope your characters aren’t on fire or constantly shouting at each other or saying “Whoa!” all the time, but what I’m saying is there are additional circumstances that apply to creative writing. Sometimes I’m writing in first person, and the person is thinking screamy thoughts. Those screamy thoughts deserve an exclamation point.

Example: “They spelled my name wrong again. Why is it so hard to write out ‘Patreece’ with three E’s? These baristas are the worst! That’s it. I’m taking my business elsewhere! After I drink this venti skinny double caramel mocha latte, that is. Mmmmm. Foam.

Getting to the point (but not the exclamation point)

Don’t use it! Unless you’re writing a screamy thought…or a screamy blog post where you contradict yourself, there is no place for exclamation points in professional web copy.

Next up on things I can’t get on board with: The not-so-literal use of the word “literally.” It’s LITERALLY the worst.

Now to cleanse your palette, here’s a clip of the real drunk uncle that we’ve all been waiting for.

In closing, write well and don’t lean on unnecessary punctuation to convey your excitement.

That’s it. That’s my beef.

 

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2 thoughts on “Exclamation points: The drunk uncle of web copy

  1. One of my fiction teachers said, “if you use an exclamation point, your character is essentially screaming. Do you want your character to be screaming?” I never use them now.

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