One of the nice things about my job is that I receive a lot of free books from well-known marketing authors like Erik Qualman, Dave Kerpen and Lon Safko. Usually, these are shipped to me direct from the publisher in the hopes that I’ll read them and write a review on the 60 Second Marketer. As nice as it is to get the free books, I just don’t have the bandwidth to read each one, let alone write a review.
But a few weeks ago, I received a review copy of Everybody Writes by Ann Handley, who is the Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs. My intent was to sit down, skim a few pages and then put it up on the shelf with all the other review copies I’ve received in the last year.
So, I grabbed a fresh cup of coffee and started reading a few pages. Then I read a few more pages. And a few more pages.
Before long, I realized that Ann’s book is a must read for any businessperson interested in improving their writing. And that means you.
Her book is packed with useful information and helpful tips that even seasoned writers need to re-visit. Better still, Ann’s book is written in a light, engaging style that makes reading it pure joy.
With that in mind, I thought I’d share a short excerpt from her book that you might find helpful. It’s about five grammar rules that your third grade teacher said never to break, but that Ann Handley says are okay to ignore.
Break Some Grammar Rules. (At Least These Five.)
High school composition classes tend to lump a lot of rules into writing – many of them telling writers what not to do. But you’re not writing to please your teachers anymore. Many of those prohibitions refer to the so-called mistakes that occur naturally in speech. I encourage you to safely and fearlessly break those rules and to make those mistakes in writing – but only when doing so lends greater clarity and readability.
- Never start a sentence with and, but, or because. And why not put and, but, or because at the beginning of a sentence? Because Ms. Dolan didn’t like it? That’s the way I heard it, anyway. But now that I’m a grown-up I realize that she was wrong. Why? Because all three can add energy and momentum to a piece. They can keep the action moving from sentence to sentence.
- Avoid sentence fragments. It’s perfectly fine to sparingly add sentence fragments for emphasis. At least, sometimes. (Like that.) (And that too.) (And this.)
- Never split infinitives. There’s supposedly a rule that says you can’t let anything come between to and its verb. Mignon Fogarty (who runs GrammarGirl.com) says this is an imaginary rule. She writes, “Instead of ‘to boldly go where no one has gone before,’ the Star Trek writers could just [as] easily have written, ‘to go boldly where no one has gone before.” But they didn’t. You, too, can split if you wish. But be careful not to change the meaning or create too much ambiguity, as GrammarGirl notes:
Sometimes when you try to avoid splitting an infinitive you can change the meaning of a sentence. Consider this example:
Steve decided to quickly remove Amy’s cats.
The split infinitive is “to quickly remove,” but if you move the adverb quickly before the infinitive, you could imply that Steve made the decision quickly:
Steve decided quickly to remove Amy’s cats.
- Don’t end a sentence with a preposition. It has been said that after an editor changed his sentence so it wouldn’t end with a preposition, Winston Churchill quipped, “This is the kind of impertinence up with which I shall not put.” Awkward. “This is the kind of impertinence I will not put up with,” is perfectly fine. One big unless: “You shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition when the sentence would mean the same thing if you left off the preposition,” GrammarGirl notes. “That means ‘Where are you at’ is wrong because ‘Where are you?’ means the same thing.
- Never write a paragraph that’s a mere one sentence long. In school, I was taught to write paragraphs with no fewer than three sentences and no more than seven. Modern marketing has pretty much choked this one dead, because white space helps online readability tremendously.
But it bears emphasizing: one sentence, set apart, is a great way to make an important point crystal clear.
I’m not kidding.
Everybody Writes, by Ann Handley, is available at fine bookstores everywhere.
Excerpted with permission of the publisher, Wiley, from Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content by Ann Handley. Copyright (c) 2014 by Ann Handley. All rights reserved. This book is available at all bookstores and online booksellers.