TikTok Trend Watch   //   February 23, 2024

TikTok trend watch: Should exclamation points be used more sparingly in work communications?

Workers are trying to answer a key question around the way they communicate virtually at work — how many exclamation points are too many to use in an email? What about a Slack message? And ultimately, how does one toe the line between seeming eager, excited and like they’re a pleasant person to work with, versus staying professional, poised and to the point?

Some workplace experts say exclamation points have little place in professional communications and toiling over how many to use or how many you’ve received in a message can put undue stress on both the sender and recipient. But others say they are a tool to better convey one’s personality and attitude in virtual workspaces where online interactions happen more frequently than those in-person. And empathy and personalization are becoming more valuable with more emails and other correspondence now written by artificial intelligence.

TikTok users have shared a variety of videos chronicling their inner debates around resisting the urge to add too many exclamation points in professional emails. In a clip from creator olivia.laughing, she shows herself at her laptop “choosing which sentence in an email gets an exclamation point so I come across as friendly but still professional.”

“I started taking out all the exclamation points in my emails. So they know I mean business!” another creator, ahliezathornberry, said in a clip.

Intention is a key factor to consider when deciding whether or not to use an exclamation point, said Kevin Daum, an author, columnist and media strategist. “If it warrants an explanation point, then by all means, use it. If you’re doing it because it’s just a habit, or because that’s what the kids seem to be doing, that’s the wrong reason,” Daum said.

“I think because of the over-saturation of communication, it's probably more important now than ever that people actually be intentional with what it is that they're saying and how they're saying it."
Kevin Daum, author, columnist and media strategist.

“I think because of the over-saturation of communication, it’s probably more important now than ever that people actually be intentional with what it is that they’re saying and how they’re saying it,” he said.

Greater AI use also means more emails and other professional communications will end up written by the technology, which takes away the personalization and empathy one can better convey in a message they actually write themselves.

“The current state of AI doesn’t take into account the soul and emotion of what it creates in content, which leaves it to the user to put that work in,” Daum said. “It’s only when you add the emotion and the soul to it that it will likely have an emotional impact on the other side.”

Jane Freedman, principal and founder of Jane Freedman Law, is strongly in favor of using multiple exclamation points in professional emails. But it hasn’t always been that way. In law school, someone confronted her over her overuse, and once she started her career she was much more cognizant and used them sparingly.

After beginning her career in corporate law, Freedman then founded her own firm and changed her tune. She now strongly believes exclamation points have a place in workplace communications, and said she uses them as a way “to let my personality come through in an authentic way.”

“I was trying to kind of fit into this corporate mold of what I thought people expected of me as a corporate lawyer. And when I started my own law firm it was just really freeing to kind of take a step back and be like, oh, maybe I don’t need to do that anymore,” she said.

Freedman said she sends exclamation points in most of her emails and that doing so helps build better relationships with those she works with. Intention still matters though, and for more formal or serious communications she said she uses them less frequently.

“But everything in moderation, you don't want to overuse those exclamation points because then they lose their oomph."
Jane Freedman, principal and founder of Jane Freedman Law.

Freedman said it irks her when people underuse exclamation points when they’re clearly warranted, like if someone shares good news in a LinkedIn or Facebook post and someone else leaves a comment that says “congratulations” with no other punctuation. “But everything in moderation, you don’t want to overuse those exclamation points because then they lose their oomph,” she added.

It seems that hand-wringing over how many exclamation marks to use in business emails isn’t new, despite the recent flurry of interest on TikTok. In 2019, researchers attempted to figure out how grammar impacts an email recipient’s perception of the sender. They sent 400 workers emails from a hypothetical colleague, with the messages either containing three exclamation points or just periods and commas.

Participants were asked to reply to the email then take a survey to assess how they perceived the sender’s likability, warmth and competence. The results showed that exclamation mark usage had no impact on any of those three things.