advice you can use — short and to the point — every Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday

Wednesday, July 31st, 2019 technology  research  practice

A Research Tip

  • Research & Writing

A certain orange person to the south of us uses these a lot (Sad!).

You would probably never see one in a contract, but you might in a factum – but there only rarely, and, one hopes, judiciously.

Over-use of the exclamation mark is a hallmark of the uneducated or unpractised writer, says Fowler.

Experienced writers will confine them to:

  • interjections (Damn! Heavens! Oh!)
  • exclamations with what or how (What a disaster! How awful!)
  • wishes (Convention be damned!)
  • ellipses and inversions expressing emotion (If only I could! Fat lot of good you are!)
  • apostrophes (You miserable swine!)

Resist the temptation to add an exclamation mark to a mere statement, question or even a command. Save it for a time when it really adds something.

Ross Guberman notes twenty-one instances of the exclamation mark in United States of America v AT&T Inc (DC Cir, 2018), where they variously convey:

  • ‘exasperation in a youthful vernacular’ (Please! Go figure!)
  • wonderment, sometimes in a sarcastic way (Small wonder!)
  • ‘judicial modesty’ (That is no easy assignment!)
  • ‘supreme certainty’ (I have concluded that the answer to that question is no!)
  • spin-control (But the temptation … should be resisted by all!)

Each of the AT&T examples could have been as effective with just a period, probably. Adding an exclamation mark may be an admission that your phrasing inadequately conveys the desired tone.

A useful place for the exclamation mark is e-mail, where tone is notoriously difficult to capture. An unadorned Thanks may appear terse, even grudging; add the flourish of an exclamation mark and you will seem more clearly enthusiastic.

In any event, keep this form of punctuation to a minimum; writing that is peppered with exclamation marks is exhausting for the reader. And you may come across like a teenager rather than seasoned counsel.

That US decision is 172 pages long, so may not be overdoing it with twenty-one exclamation marks. More than one in a tweet, however …

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)

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