Would you rather be a grammar expert or an effective communicator?
To be a content writer who can attract, engage, and convert prospects, you’ll have to choose.
Because, sometimes, grammar and other “rules” of writing are an obstacle to effective communication.
Here are three (among many) of these rules:
1. Starting a Sentence With “but,” “and,” or “because” is Wrong.
I’ve encountered several people who believe that no proper sentence can begin with any of these words.
For a while, I was fooled into thinking they were right. Turns out that this “rule” doesn’t even have a grammatical basis.
Here’s a bunch of people (and books) smarter than me who agree:
The American Heritage Dictionary says that “but” can be used “to begin a sentence at all levels of style.”
In The King’s English, a book about English usage and grammar, it says that it is a superstition that “and” must not start a sentence.
Brian Klems, editor of Writer’s Digest exposes teachers everywhere by saying, “It’s not poor grammar to start a sentence with ‘because.’”
OK, if you’re writing for an academic audience, you may want to use these words sparingly at the beginning of sentences.
But that’s only because this myth is so persistent.
Other than that, don’t ever hesitate to use “but,” “and,” or “because” to start a sentence when writing content.
2. Don’t You Dare Use “You.”
The Kent State University Writing Commons says that the use of ‘you’ is “considered inappropriate in academic writing, such as papers or journals.”
I couldn’t agree more. If you’re writing academically.
But for writing content?
There are few audiences you’ll be writing to as a content writer that will respond to academic-sounding writing.
Take it from some of my friends:
The Balance published an article titled, “The 20 Most Powerful Words in Advertising.”
Spoiler alert: ‘you’ was number one.
David Ogilvy, one of the original Mad Men, said: “Don’t address your readers as though they were gathered in a stadium. When people read your copy, they are alone. Pretend you are writing to each of them a letter on behalf of your client.”
In the Copywriter’s Handbook, Robert Bly’s first of eleven tips for writing clear copy is to “Put the reader first, use ‘you.’”
Even some academics recognize the importance of using “you.”
The University of North Carolina Writing Center said that using “you” helps create a sense of familiarity with your reader.
3. Use Complete Sentences.
A sentence fragment is an incomplete sentence. The OWL Purdue English lab gives several examples of what this means.
Sentence fragments are always grammatically wrong.
But sometimes grammar brings you closer to your goal of effective communication. And sometimes it doesn’t.
One of OWL’s examples of fragments reads:
The current city policy on housing is incomplete as it stands. Which is why we believe the proposed amendments should be passed.
The piece from OWL says that the second clause (the one beginning with “which is why”) is a fragment.
However, OWL goes on to say, “This is a conventional journalistic practice, often used for emphasis.”
Content writers are not journalists, but like journalists, they need to emphasize certain things.
It follows then, that content writers serve themselves (and their audiences) well by making tasteful use of sentence fragments.
Conclusion: Judgment > Grammar
Grammar and style are there to help you improve the way you communicate.
If grammar and style are not doing their job, use your judgment and make the call. If your judgment is failing you, take a step back, or have someone else review it.
Just remember, effective communication is the only rule of writing without an exception.