The Exclamation Mark! Comes up these days at the slightest provocation… as if our life is full of surprises and shockers. As an editor, I find many drafts that are full of exclamations. What surprises me though is how such drafts find their way in well-known publications — unedited. Every editor worth is salt ought to know that exclamations are to be used sparingly.
Take for instance, Bombay Times [BT], the metro supplement of The Times of India Mumbai. In BT, exclamations are used indiscriminately. Out of every three snippets, two end in an exclamation. On occasion, all snippets/stories on a page end with an exclamation —with a liberal sprinkling of a few more throughout the copy. Almost all their exclamations seem forced…almost narcissistic, stinking of self importance. It’s like whatever gossip Bombay Times publishes is important and ought to be emphasised. This kind of prose sounds weak and speaks volumes about the writer’s confidence.
As for writers who exclaim too often, they forget that by doing so, they are defeating the very purpose of an exclamation. An exclamation is used when something must be emphasised, or when surprise has to be expressed. It’s like shouting out something so that when you exclaim something, other people will look up. By using too many exclamations, your prose becomes loud — it’s yelling, shrieking, and shouting — needlessly. It’s chaotic.
I recently read a piece in The Economic Times [ET] in a guest column titled, “My First Million”, where Harish Bijoor shared how he made his first million [Read it here]. This otherwise lovely piece (which I enjoyed reading tremendously) has as many as seven exclamations. Oh Boy! Now that merits an exclamation.
When I was consulting editor of Strategic Marketing, I would invite Bijoor to contribute often because he has some fresh perspectives to offer. I remember carefully weeding out every unwarranted exclamation mark. Like most management experts, he’s probably not a trained writer and therefore we cannot expect him to know the nuances of effective writing. His job is to share his experience, knowledge and insight, which he does admirably. It is the job of the editorial team to tighten the text. I don’t know how many exclamations existed in the original draft of the article I have referred to…but the final draft could have done without a few of them.
Exclamations work wonders, when used appropriately and sparingly — to highlight a strong emotion or feeling, which is its purpose. Used arbitrarily, they reduce, instead of increasing, the effect of the language. When reading a text full of exclamations, the reader is likely to stop taking the writer seriously because he gets the impression that the writers finds everything worth shouting about and so nothing is worth serious attention.