The exclamation point has a mixed reputation. Some people never use them in business writing. Other people use five after a single word.
The novelist Tom Wolfe said, “People complain about my exclamation points, but I honestly think that's the way people think. I don't think people think in essays; it's one exclamation point to another.”
Meanwhile, the novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.”
Exclamation points certainly provide emphasis, but used poorly, they can make us seem unhinged.
When can I use exclamation points?
Exclamation points show strong emotion, so you can use them in business writing whenever it would be appropriate to show strong emotion.
Imagine you were speaking the words to someone rather than writing them. “Congrats on your promotion!” is perfectly appropriate, in fact more so than, “Congrats on your promotion.”
Notice the word “congrats.” It’s already informal, and it leads off a fragment, which is also informal. So that’s another clue about using exclamation points—they can appear freely in informal documents.
When you are congratulating, encouraging, or cheering, exclamation points are appropriate. Think twice (or thrice) before using exclamation points with negative emotion.
When should I avoid exclamation points?
Avoid them in formal documents. Just as you would not shout during a formal presentation, you should not “shout” in a formal document.
In informal writing, one exclamation points per sentence is plenty. You don’t need to use two or more. And avoid using exclamation points with question marks. That’s comic-book writing, and it can offend readers:
Do you really think it’s okay to end a question that way!?
Instead, use just the question mark:
Do you really think it’s okay to end a question that way?
Try to limit yourself to one exclamation point per paragraph. You don’t want to shout all the time.
What about with quotations?
If the exclamation point belongs to the quoted material, put it inside the end quotation marks.
She said to me, “I wish I could retire!”
If the exclamation point belongs to the larger sentence, place it outside the end quotation marks.
The sales report showed “a 350 percent increase in January revenues”!
The same rule applies to question marks at the end of quotations.
Did you hear her say, “I wish I could retire”?
Again, do not double up the end punctuation. (NOT Did you hear her say, “I wish I could retire!”?)