Put down the exclamation point, Reverend, and no one gets hurt.


10 years of emails and bulletin announcements have turned me into a really lousy writer.

As my sermons have become more conversational and story-based, and my actual writing has involved far more bullet points than coherent paragraphs, I have noticed a distinct decline in my ability to string a subject and a predicate together on paper. I’m particularly troubled by my apparent addiction to the use of exclamation points.

It’s harder than you think to write emails, bulletin announcements, facepage posts, event descriptions and website pages without reverting to Old Faithful. Here are just a few symbolic examples:

Be sure to come to church this this Sunday! Or Tuesday! Or Whenever!

You should join this committee despite the fact that I’m not sure you want to. It will be great!

I’ve just written an email saying something you maybe didn’t want to hear. But here’s an exclamation point to show that I’m still a great guy!

Once I started noticing this pattern, I couldn’t see around it. When I realized how many times I’d said to myself, “I don’t know how to write this email without using an exclamation point,” I knew I had a problem.

I had hit bottom.

The deeper question was, why did I think people expected exclamation points from me? Or if they did, why did they? Enthusiasm and passion are important things, and yes, I want to get people’s attention if I’m writing an announcement.

But gratuitous punctuation doesn’t really project passion or enthusiasm.  It feels more like throwing a bunch of darts and hoping a few hit their target.  It says, “We’re putting on a show and you should come see it.” It does not communicate a compelling vision of community, wisdom, or in the case of churches, honest and forthright relationship.

So I’m pronouncing a fast, and I’m not waiting until Ash Wednesday to do it. I’m not cutting the EP’s out of my diet completely, but I’m cutting way back. So if the next email or announcement you get from me sounds dour or cold or distant, I don’t mean it that way. I’m just trying to use words instead of shortcuts.


About bernardowens

I'm an Episcopal priest in Greensboro, North Carolina.
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