How Your English Teacher Lied to You about Writing

posted this in
Content Marketing, General
on April 18th, 2013

Hi. I’m Bryce and I’m a recovering grammar-aholic.

I did the 12 steps. I’ve experienced the withdrawal symptoms. I’ve had the occasional relapse. And I’m here to tell you there is hope on the other side.

I used to be like you, though. I laughed when I saw someone leave their participle hanging or begin their sentence with “and”. And don’t even get me started on fragments or ending sentences with prepositions.

But I’ve changed and you can, too.

You see, when I was in school, I hated getting points taken off of my papers (I know, I’m a nerd.)

So I quickly learned the rules. Grammar rules that we’ve all heard and followed.

But when I started writing blogs, email newsletters and other content on the web, I noticed the rules that govern an English classroom are not the same that govern the web. On the web, you must be conversational and relatable instead of scholarly and stuffy.

This meant ignoring some of the lies I was fed in English class throughout my school years. Rules that are commonly held to by grammar-aholics like myself. But I want to help you break free, so here are seven of the most common grammar rules that are ok (encouraged, actually) to break.

Don’t Start Sentences with “And” “Because” “But” or “So”

If you’re writing a scholarly thesis to get your Doctorate degree, this is good advice. But if you’re writing on the web (blogs, email marketing, landing page content, social media), this rule is terrible.

Feel free to start your sentences with these conjunctions. In fact, I encourage you to use “and” and “but” to start sentences, rather than stuffy-sounding words like “therefore” or “in conclusion”.

Never, Ever, Ever Use a Sentence Fragment

Pish-posh.

While it’s advisable to write in complete sentences as much as possible, it’s perfectly acceptable to use sentence fragments from time to time (as long as it helps get your point across.)

A few instances where fragments work include:

  • Making transitions: “Now, on with the story.”
  • Indicating conclusions: “Fine.”
  • Asking a question: “But how?”
  • Making exclamations: “Never!”

There Are No One-Sentence Paragraphs

If you’ve read this far, you probably already know how I feel about this one. The name of the game on the web is readability.

And what’s easier to read on your website – a blocky, 10-sentence paragraph or several smaller paragraphs?

Avoid Contractions

Your writing should be conversational. Humans use contractions when talking to other humans all the time. Your website is created as a way for humans to talk to other humans. So you should use contractions, too.

However, keep in mind that you need to also be clear. In some circumstances that may mean writing out words rather than using a contraction.

Take the common road sign “Do Not Enter” as an example. It would not have the same clarity and emphasis if written “Don’t Enter.”

Don’t Use the First-Person

Most of your content should be written in second-person using “you” pronouns (which is also discouraged by English teachers), but it is definitely ok (and encouraged) to use first-person occasionally.

Especially in your blog when you’re telling your customers a personal story.

Never End a Sentence with a Preposition

This is grammar rule often cited by grammar-aholics (like myself). But you should ignore it.

Take the following example:

  • “Who are you going with?”
  • “With whom are you going?”

Which of those sounds like something you’d say out loud? Unless you’re from another planet, I’m guessing you picked the first one.

You Shouldn’t Use Slang

I must say that this one is only a half-lie. Some common slang is acceptable in your web writing, but you should not litter your sentences with OMG’s LOL’s and others. The idea here is readability - so any slang you use should improve the clarity of your writing, not confuse it.

You must also make sure your audience understands the slang you are using. So feel free to use some slang, but proceed with caution.

Start Writing

Now you have 7 fewer “rules” to worry about when writing content for your blog, email newsletter, landing page or social media post. So get writing!

Did you unknowingly spread these lies? Which ones? Do you have other grammar rules you think should be ignored? Let us know on Facebook!