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Emojis and exclamation marks: yes 🙂 or no!

Lazy, superfluous and ordinary or a welcome addition to our (online) language use? Emojis and exclamation marks can evoke quite a few emotions. If you scour the depths of the internet, you will discover all sorts of arguments for and against. So what do you do: to use or not to use? Read on for 4 practical tips!

A brief history of

First back to basics. What is an exclamation mark officially for and since when did we start using emojis? Most people agree that you write an exclamation mark to emphasize something or for an exclamation. But we may have gone a bit overboard (cough, you know who you are!!!!). Yet wanting to give emphasis to a text is not that crazy at all. The exclamation mark probably has a Latin origin and therefore a long history. In Latin, after sentences became the word io used: an expression of joy, a kind Hoera.¹ Over the years the 'o' disappeared and then you only have to turn the remaining 'i' for an exclamation mark. 

Emojis are a lot younger. While there is debate over whether emoticons weren't much earlier or if they were typos, the first time they were deliberately used was in 1982, by Scott Fahlman. This professor of computer science wanted to ensure clear communication within his team by using the happy emoticon : ) for funny messages and the sullen : ( for serious ones.² This also brings us to the difference between emoticons and emojis: the characters themselves (as in the previous sentence) are an emoticon, but if it really becomes a picture, then we are talking about emojis.The first ones were created in 1999 by the interface designer Shigetaka Kurita and now we can't live without them.

Against: the "garish, annoying, intrusive" argument

But not everyone is excited about the rise of emojis or the widespread use of exclamation marks. There's certainly something to be said for that: those four exclamation marks above you noticed anyway, and probably not in a positive way at first (until hopefully you understood the irony). It immediately gives you a rushed feeling and it comes across as loud and irritating. 

Exclamation marks

A common writing tip is: use exclamation marks sparingly. But the stricter opponent camp can sometimes even do one exclamation mark too much find. Certainly in slogans they would actually reduce reliability and strong brands such as Nike or Apple do not use the punctuation mark at all.³ Funnily enough, they do appear on the website of these road-with-the-exclamation-mark heroes; practice what you preach is difficult, especially when we are talking about an innocent and useful punctuation mark.

Still, we believe that exclamation marks are definitely irritating can not be purchased being (with emphasis on being able to), but also adding something. Yes, the entire context already contributes to conveying a message – think of white space, fonts, font size and color – but a text itself and therefore also the punctuation marks are part of it. Everything counts and it's a shame not to use an entire category. That's not lazy, but making the best use of your possibilities. 


Informal and incompetent. That's how misusing emojis can certainly come across. If you send a business e-mail with the colored characters, you are not immediately perceived as warmer or friendlier and you even seem to receive less informative replies.⁴ No bueno, but what if we look at marketing purposes? It can go both ways there. Webcare employees were experienced as warmer by using smileys, but at the same time less knowledgeable. For handling complaints, where expertise is important, it is therefore better to leave them alone. But if you want to build a relationship with a customer, they might work to your advantage.⁵

Miscommunication is another important counterargument. Because do we all experience emojis in the same way? Research shows that what one person considers a positive emoji, the other evokes a negative feeling.⁶ And then the operating system of your phone also matters, because on Android they can look slightly different than on Apple. So think carefully about which emoji you use - the grinning one is sometimes perceived differently - and check, for example, with colleagues how they read something.

You will find the non-doubters in the front camp. They are not wondering if, but how to use emojis.⁷ And perhaps rightly so, because experience shows that emails are opened more often if there is an emoji in the subject line. But with the important caveat: only if the rest is correct. If you have a good, non-misleading subject line, the right emoji gives that little bit extra and is the cherry on top.⁸ But emojis make bad text even worse. Just think of your spam box, where clickbait-like topics with lots of emojis fight for your attention. You never open that, do you?

Interestingly, we overestimate the enthusiasm of our own lyrics. Mails are generally read much more neutrally than how you intended them. So if you write a neutral email, it may be perceived as negative. If you throw an emoji or exclamation mark at it, you are not immediately 'overly happy', but rather 'normally enthusiastic'.⁹

Non-verbal communication

The proponents see emojis as an enrichment and addition to our language. It is the digital version of non-verbal communication. It's impossible to see someone rolling their eyes on the other side of the screen, but the right emoji can convey sarcasm just fine. Even better than if you only try with punctuation marks.¹º It doesn't make us any worse or lazier. Maybe even more creative! Young people can express themselves well with the new visual language, but also adapt effortlessly when they communicate with their grandfather, for example.¹¹


Not all exclamation marks are created equal. Just do it is much stronger with a period than an exclamation mark and the 5 exclamation marks in that email from your colleague come across as very intense. But if you leave it out in an app, the other person may wonder if something is wrong (think of someone who responds with 'ok'). Where and to whom you write determines what is appropriate. 

Is that an exclamation mark or emoji in your one-liner or slogan? Probably not, but in short texts, such as posts or advertisements on social media or the subject line of mailings, you can easily guide the reader through the text and attract attention. And that is exactly what is needed at the time of the content shock: if you don't make it easy for the reader, it will be gone. 

4 tips: the perfect balance

How do you navigate the maze of exclamation points, emojis, context and appropriateness? We have listed a few tips for you:

  • Never use more than 1 exclamation mark in a row and limit yourself to 1 per paragraph.
  • Does every paragraph end with an exclamation mark? Then look for the Backspace button. moderate the way to go: otherwise you weaken the message.
  • On a personal level, emojis just let you go. Are you mailing to the highest boss or a new customer? Then first try to feel what the other person's style is (a good tip for communication anyway).
  • Bring emojis in the house style for a project or company. What do you want to radiate and which emojis do or do not fit with that? 

Best of luck!

PS Yes, you read that right: closing with an exclamation mark – very daring.

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