“You! Exclamation mark, straighten up!”
“Subject, verb, get yourselves agreeing NOW!’
“Conjunction, pull it together!”
“Is that Oxford comma AWOL again?”
A lot of times I feel like a grammar drill sergeant. I’m a militant vulture circling others’ writing waiting to pounce on their errors. It’s bad when people who send me letters apologize for making writing mistakes. I’ve earned a reputation I’m not always happy with.
To me it is really important to follow The Rules of writing. But how far do I need to take it? When should I just let it go?
I’m going to fall back on a favorite reply of one of my grad school professors, “It depends.”
Sticking to the rules is important in formal, academic, and business writing. Mistakes made in these situations will reflect poorly on the writer and whoever the writer represents.
Advertising content and some web content doesn’t need to be quite so formal. In fact, they are more effective if they reflect a conversational tone.
Fiction writing often breaks the rules, especially in dialogue. Poetry is in a class of its own when it comes to grammar and punctuation.
Personal notes, e-mails, and texts don’t need to be strictly correct.
It’s important to know the rules in order to know when we can break or ignore them. Writing rules are there to guide us. The trick is to make sure what we write is clear and understandable. When we break or ignore the rules, we should be aware of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. Writing for success includes many elements: connecting with the audience, making the information clear, and avoiding making the reader work too hard.
Knowing this doesn’t stop me from correcting television ads when they make verbs out of nouns or use adjectives instead of adverbs. It doesn’t stop me from tweaking in my head news items on the Internet. In the end, does it really make a difference?
Tomorrow, I’ll put aside my sergeant’s stripes and relax. (Hmmm. Maybe not…)