Writing for the web isn't easy. Sure, you want to get your point across. That's a given.
But what you really want is to spark people's interest, engage their emotions, maybe even generate some real excitement about the stuff you're writing about. Heck, you're excited about it. Is it so much to ask that others might get excited, too?
Not at all. But we as writers tend to get into trouble when we try to make punctuation do the job that words are supposed to do. Words are what we should use to get our readers excited about our content, not punctuation. That's what language is for, after all. It's an amazing tool for communicating ideas, conveying emotion, and yes, even stoking the fires of excitement in others.
The trouble is, words are hard work. Even professional writers struggle to find the right words when we want to persuade, to energize, to goad others into action. So it's not too surprising that we often fall back on using punctuation to lend us a hand.
But it's a trap. And exclamation marks are the biggest trap of them all. Overused all over the web, these hardworking little symbols are the smiley faces of the punctuation world. We rely on them far too heavily when what we really need to do is go back to our words and try to make them convey more precisely what we're trying to say.
Don't ask punctuation to do a word's job, is what we're saying. It dilutes your message, makes you look unprofessional, and leaves you with nowhere to go when you actually do need an exclamation mark. But how's a web writer to know when an exclamation mark is actually called for?
Well, to start, you could use the handy flow chart below (written by me and designed by Tyler Littwin).
(Click here to enlarge the image.)