Why I don’t use exclamation points in email anymore

Once, when I was still enlisted and new to email in the Army, I sent an email to a staff NCO requesting some information. I was a Sergeant (E5) at the time and I was emailing either a Sergeant First Class (E7) or Master Sergeant (E8) – I don’t remember exactly. I was working for a General officer at the time, and as such, my emails packed a little more “punch” because recipients knew what office it was coming from. It’s a power that can easily be abused, and can certainly piss people off if used improperly.

Anyway, I don’t remember exactly what the information I was requesting was about, but before getting to the signature block, I wrote something to the effect of “Just let me know!”

It was written to be enthusiastic.

I sent the email and didn’t think much of it. Later that afternoon, I was walking back into the office where I found the angry NCO with a printed piece of paper (my email) gesturing aggressively to the Lieutenant who served as the General’s aide-de-camp. When the NCO saw me, he turned to me and asked “What the hell is this? You don’t tell me to just let you know!

I shot him a confused look and he showed me the email with my statement highlighted.

Again I looked at him confused, not understanding.

“It sounds like you’re trying to order me around there, Sergeant,” he said, with extra emphasis on the word sergeant.

“Oh, no, I was just trying to sound enthusiastic, like, let me know!” I said “let me know” with an un-natural upward inflection to emphasize the point.

“Well that shit doesn’t translate in email.”

It was an embarressing lesson. Since then, I rarely use exclamation points in email because I fear how it might be read on the other side. Sometimes, before sending an email, I’ll read it over and find places where an exclamation point would add a spark of life. I delete the period and replace it with an exclamation point and watch the blinking cursor flash at me for a few moments. I think of that angry NCO with his printed piece of paper and the highlighted line and I delete the exclamation point, replacing it with the boring and very safe period.

Enjoy these posts? Follow me on Twitter and sign up for the monthly newsletter.