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Exclamation points. Don’t use them.

“Exclamation points,
you see, are evil. “
James Chartrand, Men With Pens

I’m fairly certain that I’ve talked about this in nearly every web-related workshop or presentation  I’ve ever done; despite this emphasis, I still see exclamation points appearing on library websites.  I know, you think it doesn’t matter. It’s just so easy to use an exclamation point.    And, of course, so many things your library is doing are so exciting–so they must warrant an exclamation point, right?

No, they don’t. Let me be as clear as possible about this: exclamations will always hurt your image more than they will help.

What does this mean to me, Laura?

  • First, by its very nature, an item tagged with an exclamation point will downgrade everything else around it. That’s what an exclamation point does: it says “this is the most important thing, ignore the other things.” It’s meant to draw attention to itself. By default, it tells the reader that it is most important. This is the feature that, I understand, libraries enjoy about the exclamation point’s use. However, I suspect most users of this mark don’t intend to make everything else insignificant. Yet, that’s what it does.
  • Second, and more importantly, professional writing does not use exclamation points. Go look at newspapers. Murders and wars are exciting stuff, sure. Yet, newspapers do not end all of their potentially exciting headlines with exclamation points. It isn’t done.  I always tell libraries: “If your library wins a really big levy, you can use ONE exclamation point on your website. That’s it.” Say thank you to your voters with one exclamation point. They’re valuable, after all. Otherwise, make a point (pun intentional) of staying away from them entirely. It might be a little more work, but the boost of the image of your library’s website is well worth it.

“There are the exclamation-point addicts out
there, you see. They’re the writers who feel
they really can’t put across the excitement,
immediacy, or sincerity without that little extra
boost (!) to make it feel super-charged.
They’re the writers who believe that they
should slap an exclamation point at the end of
a written sentence anytime they would allow
their voice to lift at the end of spoken one. “
—James Chartrand, Men With Pens

There are 4 comments

  1. My friend Jim used to tell his writing students, “You are allowed to use 3 exclamation points in your entire college career. Do you really want to use all three of them on that one sentence?”

  2. I completely agree where library web sites are concerned, but so much of what we do these days crosses into other, less formal, online sites. Facebook, as the most obvious example, strikes me as a place that’s intended to be less formal and professional. It’s a chance for librarians to trick people into thinking we’re not all nerdy sticklers for proper grammar, and gives us the chance to connect with people on a more human level (yes, I do see the irony there). I’m not one to advocate filling Facebook pages with cat pictures or anything, but I feel there’s a risk to being too professional all the time.

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