American email writers are facing an exclamation point crisis that, if we all work together, we can fix. This isn't a diatribe on how the Internet has changed the way we communicate, for better or worse. Rather, this is about the uncertainty that comes with using the controversial punctuation during our electronic correspondences. For those of us who email on a regular basis, which is basically everyone, all the time these days, there's a certain pressure to use an "!" in every email, fearing we'd otherwise come off as dour, sarcastic or just plain rude. The mark thus decorates emails across America lest we come off as plain evil without exclaiming, which only feeds the addiction. It has gotten to the point, that sometimes one isn't even enough. One doesn't want to use too many, fearful of coming off like a teenage girl. But no mark at all reads as, at best, stiff or, at worst, a total jerk. Before we can do anything about this issue, however, we must understand its various manifestations. There's a balance, America.
The Exclamation Mark Sandwich
Form: One makes a "sandwich" with the punctuation mark, ending both the first and last sentence with a !, rather than a standard period, which would suffice.
Purpose: Beginning and ending a group of sentences with an exclamation mark ensures that the recipient both begins and ends with a positive tone in their head. It's like giving an email a hug.
The Concluding Exclamation Mark
Form: The very last thought gets an exclamation point.
Purpose: This one operates on the idea that reader impressions come from the kicker. The last thing one says can change the total tone of the email. It's like a kiss goodbye.
The Exclamation Mark After Every Sentence
Form: Place just one mark after every sentence that is not a question.
Purpose: This generally comes from those who fear offending anyone. Each mark serves as a reminder of the love each thought conveys.
The Ironic Exclamation Mark Overload
Form: Add lots of unnecessary exclamation marks.
Purpose: It serves as commentary on our society's punctuation mark addiction and the way the Internet has impacted Writing. Alternate purpose: teenage girls.
The Exclamation Mark Total Response
Form: Use the exclamation mark as an entire response to an e-mail.
Purpose: It's sort of a catch-all, lazy-person's version of an e-mail reply. It says more than not responding at all, which, again, can come off as jerky.
We understand what makes the mark so addictive and support the use of exclamation marks in email. That one note changes the whole tone of en e-mail. "Ok." reads like "ugh, fine, okay, whatever." Whereas "Ok!" reads like a normal, not-mad response. But no one should feel forced to use an exclamation point. If we all accept that Ok-period means just that, without any negative feelings involved, then we can start getting over this addiction. We understand that sometimes a tense note needs a little uplifting. Or sometimes it's fun to add a little extra excitement to the email. But many exchanges can do just fine without it, if we all make a pact to accept exclamation mark-less e-mails, without hard feelings.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.