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Punctuation in referencing

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! Exclamation mark

Although this section explains the 4 uses of exclamation marks, in many subjects it is not acceptable to use them in academic work. It may be safest to avoid them.

Exceptions to this might be any coursework which is not in an academic format (e.g. creative writing; publicity brochures or materials; posters). Check with your tutor about posters. In some subjects (e.g. science), posters are used as an academic format.

Exclamation marks create an effect. It is best not to over-use them, as this reduces their impact.

The exclamation mark (!) indicates a strong feeling or exaggerates something.

At the end of a sentence

You can use an exclamation mark at the end of a sentence instead of a full stop. You then start the next sentence with a capital letter.

An exclamation mark suggests a strong feeling. Such feelings are shown when talking by non-verbal signals such as facial expressions or tone of voice. For example:
  • surprise
  • shock
  • excitement
  • anger.

That is very annoying!

He then fell down the stairs!

The sentences below have much less emotion attached to them without the exclamation marks.

That is very annoying.

He then fell down the stairs.

Academic work is usually objective rather than emotional. This is perhaps why exclamation marks may not be acceptable.

At the end of a word or phrase

You can use an exclamation mark to give emphasis after a single word or a phrase which is not a sentence (normally in written work you must use sentences - this is an exception).




What a crisis!

With rhetorical questions

This gives more emphasis and can show a rhetorical question, i.e. a question which does not expect an answer but which is asked to create an impact.


The punctuation mark at the end can change the meaning.

How can people behave like that?

How can people behave like that!

Where there are quotation marks or brackets

If the statement to which the exclamation mark belongs is in quotation marks (" ") or brackets ( ), the exclamation mark goes inside them.

You then put a full stop after the quotation marks or bracket to show the end of the whole sentence.


My friends are horrified and are saying "What a mess this situation is!".

My friends are horrified (what a mess the situation is!).

My friends are horrified (they are very concerned about me)!
In the third example the exclamation mark does not belong to the phrase inside the quotation marks. It belongs to My friends are horrified, so it comes at the end of the sentence.

© Learning & Teaching Institute, Sheffield Hallam University 2004