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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Using the Exclamation Point!!!!!!

Sometimes I receive emails from people who highlight the subject in red and add an exclamation point to make sure I know the message is important.  Often the message is very important but not urgent.

There's a difference.

Urgency requires a life-saving, fast response; important messages often require deliberate thought and calculation.

Red-flagged messages with exclamation points often deserve the latter attention, but people who fire them off seem to want a hurried response and will follow up with two or three more emails with exclamation points and a couple of phone calls before an hour has passed upon receiving them.  These exclamation-point people might even wait outside the restroom for you to come out, believing that as soon as you reappear in the office hallway you will be ablaze with the red-hot attention their pressing matter deserves.

It probably does deserve attention but it most likely doesn't deserve the red-hot, urgent kind: a decision that is made at the speed of the writer's anxiety rather than at the pace of deliberate consideration.

Timing matters in making decisions.  People who make decisions have many factors to consider other than just the red-flagged alerts bearing exclamation points.

Keep that in mind the next time you want to fire off an urgent message that feels critically important to you but is only one more important matter for the person to whom you are sending it.

Then, remember what the boy who cried wolf found out:  too many exclamation points used too often causes people to doubt the urgency of your message. 


  1. Write to the project's specification. When you get a writing assignment, be sure the details of the project are clearly spelled out. Write exactly to those details. If you have a question, ask the client by all means, but don't make an assumption. By writing to specification, your professional writing clients will be happy to refer you to others.

  2. This is very true. Over-exaggeration is the worst in my book sometimes.