Copywriting 101: Exclamation Point, Friend or Foe?

My name is Ann and I'm a grammar geek. There, it's out and I'm relieved. Does this mean my writing is perfect and consistently conforms to grammar rules? Heck, no. It does mean that I spend hours perseverating about serial commas, dangling participles, and feeling guilty if I end a sentence with a preposition. I worry endlessly about what I call the PowerPointification of America (i.e., the trend toward writing short chunks of information in bullet points - which, incidentally, is what sells). I can't bring myself to use abbreviations in e-mail or instant messages. I don't use emoticons. I can't help it. For better or worse, I'm a word nerd.

In my technical writing world, I get paid to think about these things. I must stay on top of instructional design trends, write to suit my audience rather than myself, and ensure that my copy is error-free both technically and grammatically. Often, I must check my ego at the door and conform to writing styles with which I don't agree. Why? I must please my customers. It's my job. There are times in life when we all must conform and comply to rules we don't like. Sometimes, however, you just have to stand up for what you believe. For me, it's a strongly held belief that the exclamation point is a dangerous grammar tool that should be used sparingly and with caution.

Why do I pick on the exclamation point? I've noticed a trend in recent years that correlates with the growing popularity of e-mail and instant messages. It's the proliferation of the exclamation point. I see so much Web copy with multiple exclamation points (e.g., "This widget is the best in all of widgetdom!!!!") or an entire page of Web copy in which each sentence ends with an exclamation point. This makes me feel like someone is yelling at me. It "hurts" my virtual ears. And frankly, if you use the exclamation point too much, you are like the boy who cried wolf. Who is going to believe you if you're always yelling to get attention?

What's a newbie copywriter or small business owner who can't afford to pay a professional copywriter to do about exclamation pointitis? Follow these simple guidelines:

  • Limit your Web copy exclamation points to one per page. Yes, I know you love your product, but remember, there is great elegance in simple, clean copy.
  • Read and revise your copy and then read and revise again...and again. If you're suffering from exclamation pointitis, ask yourself, "Are there adjectives I could be using that would more precisely illustrate the point rather than using exclamation points?" Remember, the thesaurus is your friend. Use colorful adjectives. Vary them throughout your copy, but don't use a word unless you are entirely sure of its meaning.
  • Don't ever use multiple exclamation points!!!! It's a sign of immature writing.
  • When is an exclamation point appropriate? Use it to convey extreme emotion or as a command (e.g., "Stop it!" I yelled, as my brother hurled me into the pool.)
  • Still stuck? That's okay. We small business owners aren't expected to know everything. Chances are there's another business owner out there who loves to write killer copy. Have others you trust read your work. Make it a habit to check out the writing styles of people and companies you admire. Find Web pages with exclamation pointitis and think about how you would improve them. And always remember, the beautiful thing about Web sites and your blog is that you can change your content whenever you want.

    The bottom line is that well-written copy portrays a professional and polished image. Is your marketing copy up to snuff?

    Copyright 2005, Ann Zuccardy, All rights reserved.

    Ann Zuccardy is a freelance technical and copy writer with 17 years of industry experience in marketing and technical communication. She currently consults with IBM in Essex Junction, Vermont where she writes software user manuals, training guides, and release notes. Ann is also the owner of Vermont Shortbread Company. She can be reached at http://wordbrains.com/

    In The News:


    pen paper and inkwell


    cat break through


    Freelance Copywriting Advice #1: Take the Scary Jobs

    From time to time you will be faced with an... Read More

    Copywriting Secrets Of Indias Mystics

    Hi everyone,Been ruminating on this one for a little while... Read More

    Top 7 Things To Do Before You Hire A Copywriter

    Now that you've decided to hire a copywriter, how do... Read More

    Are You Making These Press Release Mistakes?

    You've done it. Gotten that press release written. Now you're... Read More

    Quotations as Expressions in Life

    Quotations are expressions, usually in the spoken form or in... Read More

    Content is King

    IntroductionA pencil. Yes, a pencil. In my opinion, every great... Read More

    How To Write An Effective Ad

    A letter or postcard allows you to "talk" one-on-one to... Read More

    Your USP is Useless

    One of the keys to writing good marketing copy is... Read More

    Can Anyone Succeed as a Freelance Copywriter?

    This is a question that can be answered in a... Read More

    How to Get Instant Attention

    Most of us have seen a heckler at a baseball... Read More

    Getting Over Copy Shock

    A few weeks ago I wrote some copy for a... Read More

    Long Copy vs. Short Copy? If You?re Still Debating This, You?re Missing The Point!

    I've seen this ongoing debate debate jump up again recently... Read More

    3 Reasons why Content is Still King

    Back in the late nineties, the phrase 'Content is King'... Read More

    Freelance Copywriters on the Internet: How to Tell the Difference Between Heaven-sent and Hack

    If you're hunting for a good freelance copywriter and have... Read More

    Six Reasons You Don?t Need a Technical Writer (and Why They?re Dead Wrong!)

    I know, I know. Times are tough. You have to... Read More

    The Secret to Web Copywriting Gurudom

    Have you seen those copywriting gurus, working it on the... Read More

    How To Really Connect With Your Customer In Your Copywriting

    One of the least talked-about areas in copywriting education is... Read More

    Top 3 Rules for Writing Effective Copy

    One thing all successful Internet marketers have in common is... Read More

    Copywriting Businesses - How You Can Get Started

    Do you have the training and skills needed for copywriting?Are... Read More

    SEO Copywriting: 7 Tips

    So you finally built a website for your home-based business.... Read More

    How You Can Proofread Your Own Work

    Putting out a high quality product is a given these... Read More

    How to Make the Most of Your Website Copywriter

    Many people feel uncertain when dealing with copywriters. Like any... Read More

    The Lead: Sinking The Hook Into Your Prospect

    You only have an instant to capture your prospect's attention.... Read More

    Its Not What You Say But How You Say It

    Copy is all about words. Or is it?Copy is about... Read More

    How To Take Your Freelance Writing Chances

    Your initial freelance writing assignments are the best way to... Read More

    How To Become Qualified As A Proofreader

    The field of proofreading is not as easy to get... Read More

    Five Steps To Online Copywriting Success

    One of the most important priorities of evey online business... Read More

    Sticky Homepage Copy in 30 Seconds

    Yes indeed, that's all you've got, 30 seconds to make... Read More

    Can 97% of Netpreneurs be Wrong?

    Why Some People's Ads Almost Always Make MoneyDiscover the Master... Read More

    Common Mistakes That Can Kill Your Web Copy

    Sometimes learning what not to do is as important as... Read More

    Want a Sticky Site That Sells? Forget Content!

    An interesting debate is currently raging among copywriters, web designers... Read More

    Calls-To-Action: Making Them Fit Makes All the Difference

    It was going so well, so what happened? Many copywriters... Read More

    Hey, Client, This Is Me! Sell With Your Writing Voice

    In a crowded market, clients will be seeking personality as... Read More