Op-Ed: Why do women communicate with so many exclamation points!?


Photo credit: Greta Irvine

In most forms of writing, exclamation points are used sparingly for emphasis of certain words or phrases. However, exclamation points seem to have taken on another purpose for women when communicating.

By Greta Irvine, Editor in Chief

“I’m not an exclamation point type of person,” my brother said when I was checking an email he wrote before sending it off. I was puzzled. “Don’t you want to appear happy?” I asked him. He replied with a shake of the head. It was simply not necessary to do so because the email was only requesting a meeting with a teacher, he said. 

How my brother could possibly send an email without appearing to be a ray of sunshine was incomprehensible to me. My mother whose inbox was showered with exclamation points shared my confusion. 

According to Merriam Webster, exclamation points are “a mark used especially after an interjection or exclamation to indicate forceful utterance or strong feeling.” I am urged to add “in theory” to the beginning of that previous sentence because for me and many other women that is the case. In theory, exclamation points are used to convey strong feelings and emphasis. So why when I write an email do phrases like “Hello!,” “That is great!!” and “Thank you!!!” crowd my screen? 

Not a single one of those statements requires emphasis. Nor would I use such marks in any other type of writing. 

It has become an unconscious tendency to litter my emails in exclamation points, though not without reason. If I don’t want to seem too aggressive or direct when making a request such as scheduling a meeting with a teacher, an exclamation point acts as a safety net, catching any sign of assertiveness, forcefulness or anger that may be taken from my words. Secondly, the pressure to meet a certain level of cheerfulness and enthusiasm keeps me pressing “shift one” every sentence or so. 

Given what my brother said, it would appear men don’t always feel that pressure. Of course, my brother cannot represent a universal male experience, though a 2006 study suggests that conclusion is accurate. The study found that women use exclamation points considerably more than men with the intention of appearing more “friendly” in their professional interactions.

But naturally, there is a balance, well only for women in this case. If exclamation points are used to excess it is deemed unprofessional. If they are used too sparingly it is considered unfriendly.

I understand, or rather it is ingrained in me, that I am responsible to manage the environment of feelings with those I communicate with. Because if nothing else, I must avoid appearing cold. That is the ultimate enemy of women, right?

No. Well, realistically it should not be. Women should not have to bend over backwards to make others feel comfortable and joyful when communicating. It is not our job nor our responsibility to do so. And we certainly do not have to assert our thoughts or opinions hidden behind a kind request for consideration. Getting to the point is not rude; It is clear and efficient. 

Does this mean I will stop using exclamation points in every email? Probably not. There is a time and place for them in communication but I will keep my eye out for those extra ones I slip in out of practice and fear. Truth be told, we do not live in a world that openly accepts women whose default tone is not overly enthusiastic and kind when communicating, so do what you feel is best for you.

But remember, exclamation points are a grammatical tool, not a necessity.