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Are exclamation points acceptable in professional correspondence?

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Exclamation points are creeping into correspondence. Is that appropriate? Depends on whom you ask.
Exclamation points are creeping into correspondence. Is that appropriate? Depends on whom you ask. - (Thinkstock)

Great meeting you!

Can't wait to get started!!

Thanks!!!

Exclamation points. So many exclamation points. They were nowhere to be found in traditional “To whom it may concern” business communications of years past. But the onslaught of social media has brought a different type of prose to professional correspondence, importing the abbreviated language of texting and tweeting, as well as liberal use of the exclamation point.

It's making some wonder: Is our professional correspondence becoming a little less professional because of the ubiquitous presence of exclamation points?

Jonathan Jaffe, managing principal of Jaffe Communications in Newark, answers that question with an emphatic yes.

And he does it with periods.

"Adding exclamation points is like putting lipstick on your prose. It's cheap, it's fast, and everyone knows it isn't real," Jaffe wrote in an exclamation point-free email. "Rather than using a string of endless exclamation points, use vivid language that gets your point across and shows you took the time to think up the ideal words. It is a much smarter and more professional way to underscore your enthusiasm."

Etiquette experts said there is no hard-and-fast rule on the use of exclamation points in business. They say they can be perfectly professional — as long as they are used with restraint.

"Sometimes it can be very appropriate because in emails we have a tendency to be a little short," said Barbara Pachter, a Cherry Hill-based etiquette expert and author of "The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat and Tweet Your Way to Success."

"Not three exclamation points, not 27 exclamation points, not in all red," Pachter said. "But if you use them sparingly, they can be effective."

Tom Bracken, president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, said he uses exclamation points in his professional emails and has no objections to receiving similarly punctuated correspondence.

"If it's on the keyboard, you can use it," Bracken said. "If you want to stress the importance of something, you use an exclamation point."

Mary Harris, an etiquette trainer based in Princeton, said exclamation points are more than just another key. Harris said she pays very close attention to her use of exclamation points in emails — basing it on her audience.

In addition to her etiquette business, Harris also is a wedding planner. When she's corresponding with a bride, she will generally scan through an email after writing it and add in a few extra exclamation points for effect.

"I will throw one in there because it does seem like if you don't do that, you look flat, like you're not as interested in your client," Harris said.

In other cases, she does the opposite.

Harris said if she doesn't know the recipient well, or if that person tends to steer clear of exclamation points, she leaves them out.

"If you're ever concerned about whether you're doing the wrong thing, the rule of thumb is always to scale back," Harris said. "Err on the side of conservative or formal, and you're not going to go wrong."

Now, can we talk about all those emoticons? :-)

E-mail to: maryj@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @mjohns422

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