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Improve Your Writing In One Easy Step (and a test)

I’m often asked questions about writing articles that will get published on sites other than your own.

There are a lot of really important aspects to doing this: write content they need; write in their voice; sell and re-sell your idea throughout the article. Stuff like that.

But, those things take practice.

So, if there’s one tip I can give you that will help immediately, it’s this: use fewer exclamation points.

On the one hand, this I’ll admit this is a personal preference. On the other, I’m being deadly serious and I think most content creators can benefit from doing so, particularly with regard to getting published.

I hate exclamation points. Well, to qualify that, I hate them in prosaic or expository writing. For salescopy and in dialogue, I’m okay with it.

As I’ve been known to say, the frequency with which you use exclamation points is inversely proportional to your skill as a writer.

My opinion is shared by a number of authors. Sci-Fi/Fantasy superstar Terry Pratchett, for example, has said that “a person’s sanity is inversely proportional to the number of exclamation marks they use!”

I’m sent dozens of articles per week and asked for input. Some people are looking to write guest posts for me, others just want some insight on how to become a better writer.

And because I spend so much time reading, editing, and giving feedback on other people’s writing, I’ve doubled down on that snarky insight. Eliminating the titular habit is the simplest high-leverage change you can make to improve the quality of your writing, the perception thereof, and the likelihood of getting it published.

I could wax philosophic about my dislike for exclamation points, but the real reason for my suggestion to limit your use thereof is they’re childish. If you cannot agree with that, at least grant they appear childish to those of us who read things other than children’s books.

You can sound excited without using exclamation points. You can imply emphasis to make a point without sounding excited. And most of all you can make a point without implying emphasis. If you cannot demonstrate the ability to do these things, editors and publishers have no use for you.

Further, even in conversational writing—the language in which I contend most internet pieces ought to be written—the Law of Diminishing Returns is pretty apparent: the more often you use exclamation points, the less impact they’ll have.

Here’s a quick three-step test to see if this applies to you:

  1. Go to your blog, and find the article you’re most proud of.
  2. Count the total number of paragraphs, and the total number of exclamation points.
  3. If you find your paragraphs don’t outnumber your exclamation points by at least 2:1, edit the entire thing.

I make just about everyone who sends me writing samples do this. So much so my former assistant use to refer to it as “the Roman Test.” I do this because I know it will help. Even if it’s not something you need to arduously work on, if nothing else it provides an additional lens through which to filter your writing, and that is of great value.

Now, before I close, I’ll offer this concession: this is mostly opinion based, and I could be totally wrong.

After all, I love and use semi-colons; quite a lot, actually. Kurt Vonnegut, one of my very favorite authors, hated semi-colons, however, saying of them, “…[t]hey are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”

Which may be true.

Never would I seek to deter you from writing in your voice, the authentic voice allowing you to pour Truth and heartsblood on the page, plumbed straight from your Wellspring.

That said, your writing (along with your chances of success and publication) will improve if you don’t sound like you’re jumping out of your goddamn chair with excitement all the time.

Very few things are that exciting. Just calm the fuck down, already.

About The Author
John Romaniello is an author, consultant, and coach who helps people and brands find their voice through writing. He's published hundreds of articles, over a dozen info products, and one New York Times bestselling book. Might wanna check out his Instagram, he's pretty easy on the eyes.