Formal schooling has ruined many writers. While they have their place, traditional rules and style guidelines must be broken at times. Many commonly accepted grammar rules, ironically, hurt the quality of your content.
That isn’t what Mrs. Crabblebottoms wanted for you when she taught you all the restrictive rules of grammar.
Let’s cleanup the mess that she and other teachers inadvertently made, shall we?
Why You Should Break Some Grammar and Usage Rules
I want you to understand why we break some rules. Blindly listening to why you should do something is what got you in the trap of writing like a Downtown Abbey screenwriter in the first place.
It is the 21st century, let’s write like it.
I promise, it’s not merely because of my disdain for traditional learning. It is because, as content writers, we have 3 main duties to perform for our readers and some rules hinder our ability to fulfill them. Here are the three duties at the heart of writing (as it relates to non-academic writing).
Duty #1 To promote clarity…
The best writers can dissect complicated ideas and concepts and present them in a way that a larger audience can understand.
One should use common words to say uncommon things.― Arthur Schopenhauer
Duty #2 To build trust…
You do this by presenting yourself in a way that is believable and seems authentic. Robotic, non-conversational English doesn’t help this.
“The more of me I be, The clearer I can see.” ― Rachel Archelaus
Duty #3 To encourage the reader to continue forward…
Whether you’re writing a blog, ad, book, etc., you want your readers to digest as much of your content as possible. As we know, most traffic will not stay beyond 10-20 seconds anyway.
Here are the biggest grammar and style rules content marketers should ignore:
#1 Paragraphs Should Be 3-7 Sentences Long
The suggested paragraph length we are taught to aim for is never less than 3 sentences. We are encouraged to aim for complete thoughts within each paragraph. If you read the work of formally taught writers, you will notice that they often err on the side of having paragraphs that are too long rather than too short.
As content creators, it is our duty to promote clarity. To do this, we need to understand how people communicate.
Two-thirds of all communication is non-verbal.
According to studies performed by Kevin Hogan and Ron Stubbs, two-thirds of all communication is non-verbal. As writers, we have to craft content in a way that aids in communicating our point.
By isolating important sentences with their own lines (paragraphs), we can do this more effectively, in spite of the limitations of the written word.
How to break it
Use your words to encourage flow and emphasize emotion. Don’t be afraid of a 1 or 2 sentence paragraph or, *GASP,* even a one word paragraph.
You can use a one word sentence like the one above as a tool to express your voice and purpose.
#2 Never End a Sentence with a Preposition
You are encouraged (traditionally) to craft sentences that make you to sound like a member of British Parliament in the 17th century.
Instead of something casual and conversational like, “not that I can think of,” this commonly accepted rule encourages you to write awkward sentences that are not at all similar to how you probably speak in real life. Do you say, “not of which I can think.” I hope not.
How to break it
Just toss this out the window and focus solely on clarity. In the real world, we end sentences in prepositions all the time. By never doing this in your writing you will seem awkward and robotic. You will lose readers and will harm the clarity for those that read through.
#3 Never start a sentence with a conjunction.
We are told to never start a sentence with a conjunction like “and” or “but.”
But does it really matter?
As you see above, I started a sentence with the conjunction “but.” It gave some contrast to my thought and draws the reader to ask the most important question of this point. Giving a thought its own sentence gives it room to breathe and makes your voice/emphasis more clear.
How to break it…
Focus on being understood. Sentences starting with conjunctions that would be seen as “choppy” in an academic setting may help make your writing more clear.
#4 Avoid contractions
Grade-school logic taught us to write formally, not conversationally. Writing without conjunctions will make your writing sound robotic and cold.
How to break it…
Don’t be afraid to write like you speak. If you would say, “you’re,” instead of “you are,” feel free to write that way. This can be a difficult habit to break, so pay close attention that you are sounding natural and conversational.
BONUS TIP: Stop Using So Many (Unnecessary) Big Words
Anyone who has ever taken the SAT or ACT knows that the test graders love big, lesser known words. In our content, never use a big word when a little word will do the same thing.
I don’t want to give you a scholarship, but I may buy from you if you’re able to explain something to me clearly and don’t make me Google half of the big words you’re flaunting at me.
An exception: industry specific terminology. Laymen won’t know all of the terms and phrases in your industry, but if you’re writing to that industry, that is their problem.
How to Break It: Remember this, no one will be mad that you used a simple word over a big one. Even if you understand a word clearly, you should be able to discern if the vast majority of your readers will or won’t.
Also, never waste time with those “word of the day,” apps or games. Want to expand your communication abilities? That’s not helping. Try learning a foreign language instead.