Weak writers rely on exclamation points to convey emotions like excitement or surprise. Great writers let their words and story perform that work for them.
Consider this excerpt from a student who wants to show excitement about winning a contest:
I thought my chances of winning were almost zero—after all, the radio announcer said that thousands of people entered the contest—so the call shocked me: I had won a balloon trip across the country! I couldn’t believe it! I wondered what a person might pack for a hot air balloon trip across…
The student expertly conjures suspense and anticipation with her words, but she cheapens the final moment with overstated exclamation points. An otherwise well-crafted paragraph begins to look juvenile. The reader’s ears begin to ring.
The Expert Essay Fix
Most exclamation points can be converted into periods without sacrificing tone, but if the moment begs for a stronger emotional punch, try making the sentence its own paragraph:
I thought my chances of winning were almost zero— after all, the radio announcer said that thousands of people entered the contest—so the call from the station shocked me: I had won a new car.
I couldn’t believe it.
I wondered what a person might pack for a hot air balloon trip across…
Do you see (and hear) what two strikes of the Enter key can do for you writing? A stand-alone sentence conveys emotion without turning up the volume to 11. It also breaks up a long paragraph — a visual trick that gives your essay a dash of style.
The only home for an exclamation point in a college essay is within dialogue. Let’s say your essay is about the time your sister pushed you down into a well when you were six. If you include the phrase you screamed over and over—“Help, I’m trapped down here in this well!”—a period probably doesn’t do the memory justice.