A charismatic and intelligent person without the benefit of a clear, concise and accurate style of writing is at a disadvantage when communicating through the medium of text. As in spoken interaction, what you write is invariably judged by how you write it. With the advent of Internet publishing for the masses, a large number of people previously unaccustomed to expressing themselves in text now flood innumerable websites with barbaric prose. Fortunately, it is quite easy to circumvent the most common pitfall: namely, the Exclamation Mark (!). If one wishes to convey intelligence and rationality in written text, it is essential to avoid this ghastly symbol. Uniquely, it has the power to change the most intellectually respectable statements into fanatic slogans or foolish outbursts. Allow me to demonstrate...
I recently read a book on Attila, the Hunnish king who ravaged Central Europe in the 5th Century A.D. It was written by a historian of some repute, undoubtedly an intelligent and rational man. Half way through the book, in a chapter discussing Hunnish military technique, I ran into the following statement:
Now, I don't mean to sound pedantic, but the formulation of this sentence in general, and the exclamation mark in particular, stuck out as an eyesore. The author comes across as a blithely naive sort of person -- he is flabbergasted by the thought of Huns with more advanced weaponry. Is this really the impression he wants to elicit? After all, it is he who is the Hun historian, not the reader. A good writer is cool and analytical -- it is up to the reader to be surprised and/or impressed. If you write academic or journalistic text, it is important to maintain the impression of cold, clinical detachment and rational, prudent evaluation. The exclamation mark is a death sentence on any intelligent statement. Consider the following sentence:
Both of these sentences sound more intelligent than the first, largely thanks to the absence of exclamation marks. It is interesting to note that the impression of gullibility/fanaticism/surprise increases almost linearly with the amount of exclamation marks. Thus the sentence:
sounds more intelligent than
which in turn sounds more intelligent than
A single exclamation mark is bad, but multiple ones are unforgivable. The function of the exclamation mark can be achieved in a much more sensible manner by accentuating certain portions of the text. Vide:
By italicizing the right word, we manage to convey the same feeling of urgency or importance, without the in-your-face fanaticism or naivete of the exclamation mark.
In conclusion: Don't use exclamation marks unless you absolutely must, and never use more than one.
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