There are few things more annoying than poor grammar in work emails! The Wall Street Journal recently published an article on the tyranny of the exclamation point in the office, and boy did I have a reaction! I hate it when people use too many exclamation points! Then I feel pressure to use a bunch of them in my response, and I hate that too! All of it is a violation of grammar best practices!

Whether you're overly emotive or have ice in your veins, work email grammar is important. You want to sound professional and ensure your message is clear. Attitude is particularly difficult to express and gage via email. Unfortunately, the use of exclamation points has become the new thing to over-analyze and worry about. That's right, exclamation points! It sounds silly, but it's the reality. The nuances will make your head spin. "He didn't use an exclamation point in his response! Is he angry with me? Does my idea stink? Is he displeased about something else and focusing his rage here? Should I follow up? Could he be behaving...normally?"

Like many others, I, too, wish there were a middle ground between a period and an exclamation point. But since the gods of grammar probably aren't about to invent a new punctuation mark, just stop using exclamation points altogether. Here's the why and how on releasing yourself from the prison of exclamatory sentences:

The Whys:

1. It's inefficient.

Punctuation at the end of a sentence doesn't have to be complicated. The vast majority of your work-related sentences end properly with a period. If you would just use it and move on, you could have answered two more emails by now. If you're overwhelmed by the amount of email you get, this is an easy place to gain back some time. You'll help other people be more efficient, too. By not using exclamation points often, you allow them to focus on the message, rather than wonder about your tone.

2. They need to know when you mean it.

Like many other things, exclamation points lose their impact if they're overused. This is exactly how this problem started: more exclamation points became a new normal, and it distorted the standard people expect. Being "calm" in your punctuation doesn't mean you're being curt - it just means you're writing properly. To reinforce that idea, it's easier never to start in the first place with the overzealous use of exclamation points. Alas, some are already too far gone to be saved.

3. It's freeing.

Silly as it sounds, fretting over punctuation is an emotional burden, both on yourself and on your reader. It doesn't have to be this way. If you use exclamation points only when you're actually exclaiming something, you won't need to worry as much about how you're coming across in email. You have plenty of real things to worry about, so relieve yourself of this needless anxiety.

The Hows:

1. Be consistent.

From the very beginning, use exclamations sparingly. What's noticeable is the change in the rate of use. So if you don't use a lot of exclamations from the start, you've set a solid precedent. No one will wonder about your change in emotions if you always sound about the same. If you're already a serial abuser of the exclamation point, quit cold turkey. There may be a brief time of awkwardness, but people will quickly adjust.

2. Always use proper grammar.

You should be doing this anyway, but it bears repeating: always use proper grammar in work emails. It's more professional, and it demonstrates respect for other people's time. Proper grammar also improves clarity, so everyone gets the message exactly as you intended. Using proper grammar will make your sparse use of exclamation points seem right in line with your normal tone.

3. Don't replace one problem with another.

If you need to stop using so many exclamation points, don't compensate by substituting a smiley face or other emoji. You're only creating the same expectation via another mechanism. Resist the urge to "soften" your period with a winky face. Just say what you mean and be done with it.

4. Show gratitude vocally.

In most cases, email isn't the only form of communication between business associates. Take those phone and in-person opportunities to express gratitude for their work. This is especially effective if you do it in front of other people. It will reassure them that a flat email affect doesn't translate to anger.

Published on: Aug 22, 2018
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