Those Annoying Exclamation Points!!!

Exclamation pointOver many years of editing books, it seems I have become a heartless eliminator of exclamation points!!! Seriously, I developed a hatred for them! People tend to WAY overuse them! Not to mention italics and bold, and that oh-so-effective use of ALL CAPS!!!!!!!

Here’s a hint to avoid coming across as amateur: Use the above devices sparingly in any writing intended for publication. (I’m being specific here, because in blog writing and emails, you’re free to go crazy. I do.)

If you tend to use a plethora of exclamation points, do a search-and-replace in your manuscript and put a period in place of every single one of them. Yep, every one. Then you can go back and add an exclamation point here and there if you really must. But I’m not kidding: VERY . . . SPARINGLY.

Same with other means of artificial emphasis: italics and ALL CAPS. Your writing should be so effective by itself that the emphasis isn’t necessary.

As for bold, don’t ever use it in running text! (It’s OKAY for headers!)

Isn’t THIS irritating??!!


Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Thomas Gillis on September 29, 2013 at 7:02 PM

    Well speaking of Exclamation points – I think I read Steinbeck said anymore than THREE ( 3 ) !!! exclamation points every 100,000 words and you are over-using it – simple as that. I refrain from an exclamation point always and include ( 1 ) every 20,000 words of text. – Anyway – point being ! Thought it was good advice from a pretty good writer.

  2. […] are adding emphasis by using exclamation points. However, overuse of emphasis defeats the purpose. Rachelle Gardner has a great blog post on the subject […]

  3. Pesky Exclamation Marks | Nancy Faltermeier on August 9, 2013 at 7:45 PM

    […] Over many years of editing books, it seems I have become a heartless eliminator of exclamation points!!! Seriously, I developed a hatred for them! People tend to WAY overuse them! Not to mention italics and bold, and that oh-so-effective use of ALL CAPS!!!!!!! Click here to read the rest of this interesting article. […]

  4. Lynn Morrissey on August 5, 2013 at 1:07 AM

    This is an excellent post. Thank you so much. I find that I use exclamation points excessively in rought drafts, likely when I am enthusastic about a topic. Self-editing is critical, and it’s then that I remove this form of punctuation. Perhaps, however, using it initially offers me some kind of unintentional cathartic release. What I find worse in professsional writing is the use of sentence fragments, run-on sentences, and grammatical errors, especially incorrect subject and verb agreement. Another error I see lately emerging in numerous blogs is the incorrect use of the contraction “it’s” as a singular possessive pronoun (and another one is “her’s.”) Thanks again for an excellent post, Rachelle, and it is interesting to find an exclamation point in your personal profile! 🙂

  5. Annkerr on July 28, 2013 at 6:50 AM

    In my novel, I used italics to show diary entries. Is there another way to highlight this section?

  6. Seraph Stein on July 21, 2013 at 3:31 PM

    Thank you and I hear you. But I’m in a bit of a pickle and would love some input. In my novel, The Deadliest Bouquet, one of my main characters is the unborn baby of my lead heroine. As they exchange thoughts, it can be difficult to tell whose internal dialogue you are reading. To clarify this, I have bolded the baby’s italicized thoughts. Any other suggestions? I would love your advice.
    -kindest regards

  7. Adam Porter on July 15, 2013 at 11:39 AM

    I feel that way about semicolons. Shows lack of commitment. Just go with a period and have done. 😉

  8. Links on Reading, Writing, and Marketing on July 11, 2013 at 7:17 PM

    […] Those Annoying Exclamation Points by Rachelle Gardner (She’s also not a fan of using bold or italic font, or all caps. I totally agree. […]

  9. rochellebarlow on July 11, 2013 at 4:13 PM

    I typically don’t use exclamation points in my writing. Just last night I put one in and ripped it out within seconds. Now I know why it felt wrong. However, I do use exclamation points in my emails, texts, tweets, and blog posts. Perhaps I should rethink that. Whoopsie daisy. My real addiction are dashes and ellipses. I’m going through the recovery steps now. Must. fight. urge. I bet those choppy sentences gets some snarls also. 😉

  10. Dan Erickson on July 10, 2013 at 10:05 AM

    Why have so few people got the memo on this. I’m a minimalist and rarely use extras to any extent. I’ll use an occasional exclamation point in dialogue, but only when someone is really excited or shouting. I use italics only for titles, foreign phrases, or sometimes letters, or a character’s thoughts. ALL CAPS? Why would I ever need to do that? I teach speech and writing and using any of these devices more than occasionally ruins the value they add. Great post!!! Too bad I can’t make bold and italics in the comments. ; )

  11. Gary Kauffman on July 9, 2013 at 9:56 AM

    I am considering designing a keyboard without a caps lock key. People would use all caps much more sparingly if they had to depress the shift key each time.

  12. Karen S. Elliott on July 8, 2013 at 5:00 PM

    I so agree!!! 🙂 I detest them. I have deleted thousands of them as an editor. I have written about them in blogs and in Editor’s Letters to clients. I have explained to writers that if you feel you must use them, then the sentence and its structure is not strong enough. And all caps – they say it’s like YELLING at someone. Don’t like that either.

  13. Forbes West on July 7, 2013 at 12:10 AM

    All so violently true. Looks damn bush league, man.

  14. […] “Those Annoying Exclamation Points.” Rachelle Gardner ( […]

  15. Kathleen Donohoe on July 5, 2013 at 12:20 AM

    I’m about to stop reading John Irving’s A Widow for One Year because of the exclamation points. I simply cannot take it anymore.

  16. Daisy on July 3, 2013 at 5:40 PM

    Oh, my goodness, yes. I write for my employer’s national blog, and everything I write goes through revisions and SEO before it goes live. I’ve actually emailed the editors and said, “The overuse of exclamation points really bothers me. It’s not the way I write or think or speak.” They were kind enough to re-edit the piece to sound more like me.

  17. Leslie Lynch on July 3, 2013 at 1:44 PM

    I keep it simple, at least for exclamation marks: Use them only within dialogue, and rarely. But I will admit to having to go through a finished manuscript and get rid of as many em dashes and ellipses as possible. They can be almost as distracting as exclamation marks.

  18. JeanneTakenaka on July 3, 2013 at 10:08 AM

    I used to use exclamation points ALL THE TIME!!!! But, a wise friend with an editor’s background warned me about the foibles of using this punctuation. I also used italics a lot in my early writing days. My biggest thing to watch is the em-dash. I like it, but try not to use them too often. Or ellipses. 🙂


  19. Brenda K. on July 3, 2013 at 9:40 AM

    Okay. Search and destroy begins today.

  20. Joshua Lawson on July 3, 2013 at 9:03 AM

    Indeed. The exclamation point gets old, fast. And don’t even get me started on all caps. 🙂

  21. Neurotic Workaholic on July 3, 2013 at 2:53 AM

    I know what you mean. I recently read a book that was good, except for the fact that on almost every single page there were exclamation points. It made me feel like the narrator was too bubbly and cheerful, like a cheerleader who drank half a dozen energy drinks.

  22. Gretchen Louise on July 3, 2013 at 12:30 AM

    Amen, amen, and amen! To me, all caps is the worst. Especially when they neglect to spell out okay, and instead put OK.

  23. Riley Banks on July 2, 2013 at 6:59 PM

    Great post. As a book reviewer, exclamations points are also a pet hate. I’ve read books with so many, it’s like being stabbed repeatedly with an arrow. What was worse – I hired an editor to copy edit my manuscript, and she added a whole heap of exclamation marks! (and yep, that sentence deserved one). I spent weeks correcting all her edits, and wonder if I still got them all.

    I’ve also seen people use bold as a way to emphasise a point – almost in place of an exclamation point. To me, that’s like using a sledgehammer to crack open your morning egg.

    I do tend to use italics to differentiate between external and internal dialogue (as in internal dialogue is in italics). Does that still make me come off as amateur?

  24. Sheena-kay Graham on July 2, 2013 at 6:50 PM

    Good advice. I can’t imagine using lots of exclamation marks or bold.

  25. JosephPote on July 2, 2013 at 3:46 PM

    You make a very good point, Rachelle.

    Lately, I’ve started questioning my over-use of exclamation points, even in FaceBook and e-mail.

    The new rule I’ve started trying to follow…if it’s not clearly an exclamatory statement, then use a period.

    I still overuse ellipses, though…and I’ve decided I’m okay with that… 😉

  26. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on July 2, 2013 at 3:36 PM

    Agreed, for the most part. Exclamation points (and the other ‘eye candy’ mentioned) are a cheap way to manipulate the reader into the emotional base of the scene. However…

    When writing dialogue spoken or shouted during the course of physical conflict, exclamation points are often needed. Conflict by its nature is raw and extreme, and writing ‘as observed’ dialogue has to reflect its nature. This is also one of the few areas where profanity may be needed for verisimilitude.

    Many readers point to Ernest Hemingway’s romantic understatement of war as a good way to approach this, but I feel that they cannot be more wrong. There is nothing understated, romantic, or subtle about people trying to kill one another. Hemingway’s prose is beautifully crafted, but it’s describing something that doesn’t exist in reality. (And this is interesting, because he did experience battle, as an ambulance driver in WW1, and as a sometime operative in the French resistance during WW2. Perhaps he saw it as romantic, and was writing scenes in his head as he experienced them?)

    Use of exclamation points during expository description of battle is usually awful. If a writer can’t describe the intensity of the scene without these devices, he or she should either seek help from a qualified crit partner, or find another way to approach the scene.

    For those who’d choose to write on these subjects, Eugene Sledge’s memoir, “With the Old Breed” is an excellent guide. Sledge fought on Peleliu and Okinawa, and experienced things that are beyond the imagining of most. His prose is low-key, friendly and informal, but you will never forget what he described. He found a way to state what can only be overstated.

    In another area, I’m finishing two Christian ‘inspirational’ books (on marriage, and overcoming through adversity). I do make use of ‘bold italics’ for key concepts – I want the reader to be drawn to them and remember them. Perhaps they serve as ’embedded tweets’.

    But they are used sparingly. Think of a cinnamon-raisin bagel; you want raisins as flavoring and texture, but you don’t want to feel like you’re just eating a bag of raisins.

  27. Sonia G Medeiros on July 2, 2013 at 3:10 PM

    Hmm…I thought I had typed in a response. But it looks like the computer ATE it! How awful is that??!! LOL

    Okay, okay. I love all of that stuff in blog posts and on Twitter. I love emoticons too. But I agree none of that stuff belongs in a novel. Or, if used, it must be used very, very sparingly. I think I’ve been pretty good at avoiding it in my WIP so far. If not, I’ll make sure to nip it out in my rewrites.

  28. Connie Almony on July 2, 2013 at 2:20 PM

    Confession: I am addicted to all of the above. Sigh! I have, however, limited them to very sparingly–I think–in my manuscript. Unfortunately, because I’m just-a-itchin’ to use them, the overflow spills into my blog.

  29. Erin Keeley Marshall on July 2, 2013 at 1:54 PM

    Preach it, Rachelle. Hallelujah and amen.

  30. Twizzler on July 2, 2013 at 1:28 PM

    What are your thoughts on colons and semicolons? And commas? I’m reading a book now loaded with them and for me, it’s too much, but is it just me?

  31. francinephillips on July 2, 2013 at 12:15 PM

    Hear, Hear.

  32. Randomness | M.H. Lee on July 2, 2013 at 11:58 AM

    […] Speaking of writing and rules.  One of my betas was recently trying to get me to add all sorts of exclamation points into my second novel.  (Um, no.)  Here’s a good post on it: Those Annoying Exclamation Points!!! […]

  33. Patrick Craig on July 2, 2013 at 11:48 AM

    Rachelle!!!!! You are so right!!!! Nothing more irritating – I mean really!!! – than the over use of punctuation, is there????

  34. Gabrielle Meyer on July 2, 2013 at 11:20 AM

    I LOVED THIS POST!!!! 🙂 I’m a big exclamation point kind of girl and I use them liberally in my emails and Facebook statuses, but I’ve been very careful in my books and blog posts. I read a self-published book once that had an exclamation point on almost every single sentence. It was so distracting, I started to count them and wasn’t paying attention to what I was reading. Thanks for this reminder. IT WAS SOOOOO NEEDED!!!!! 🙂

  35. Rick Barry on July 2, 2013 at 11:17 AM

    Amen, Rachelle. A character who makes a jaw-dropping statement needs no exclamation mark because the choice of words delivers the impact. On the other hand, weak words never muster enough oomph to make an impact simply because a “!” follows them.

  36. Beth K. Vogt on July 2, 2013 at 11:15 AM

    GOT IT!!!!!!!!

  37. Dina Santorelli on July 2, 2013 at 11:12 AM

    I’m glad you mentioned the exceptions for blog posts and texts. We exclamation point lovers need at least SOME outlets. 🙂

  38. Tammy K. on July 2, 2013 at 11:11 AM

    Great post. And it was Very FUNNY, too!!!! Hehe 🙂

  39. Meghan Carver on July 2, 2013 at 10:58 AM

    In college, I learned that you should have only one exclamation point, maybe, in every book. But I’m glad you made the exception of blogs. Exclamation points are so widely used in the blogosphere that I think my readers would think I was depressed if I didn’t use them in every post.

  40. Carradee on July 2, 2013 at 10:48 AM

    While I agree overall, italics and exclamation points do have specific meanings, and an author who refuses to use them even when they’re needed can be as problematic as someone who uses them even when they’re not.

    For example, certain things like foreign words, book/movie/album titles, and words-used-as-words are supposed to be italicized, and it can be confusing when someone doesn’t. (Particularly when the foreign word is actually a word in English but means something completely different.)

    Just a thought. 🙂

    • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on July 2, 2013 at 3:50 PM

      Foreign words can be a trial. If they’re used in dialogue, it’s assumed the speaker knows what he or she is saying, and the italicizing of such a word looks like pretentious emphasis on the part of the character.

      On the other hand, using foreign words in expository passages should really not be necessary, as in most cases there are suitable English equivalents. Where they are needed – such as a samurai unsheathing his tanto – using ‘short sword’ doesn’t cut it, and makes our poor Japanese warrior sound rather like a Roman legionaire. But italicizing ‘tanto’ trips the flow of the scene (he’s about to run someone through, after all).

      I usually presuppose a certain level of sophistication in my readers (would that there were more of them), and for those who struggle…there’s a glossary.

  41. Alex Myers on July 2, 2013 at 10:31 AM

    Agreed. A writing instructor once told me that you shouldn’t need exclamation points (or bold or italics) the content of the scene/setting should convey that information without “cheap” (his word) shortcuts.

  42. Chris Schumerth on July 2, 2013 at 9:20 AM

    Ha as I read this, it makes me think you just read manuscripts and are unloading your frustrations into a blog post.

  43. Richard Mabry on July 2, 2013 at 9:12 AM

    Which is why I cringe and wonder “what did I do wrong?” when I get an email from you with exclamation points in it!!!

  44. Sue Harrison on July 2, 2013 at 9:11 AM

    Love it, Rachelle. Thank you for my morning smile!