4 Grammar Rules To Break When Blog Writing
It’s time to break the mold and change everything you know about writing. In this guide, we’re going to give you examples (and excuses) when breaking grammar rules is the absolute best thing you can do for your blogging or writing career.
Throughout your writing experiences in school and business, you’ve been taught to stick to strict English language rules. But these same rules are quickly transforming because of the prevalence of colloquial language in advertising, especially digital advertising.
Slang, texting, and social media have not only entered into the realm of digital marketing—they’re controlling it. Thus, in order to connect with audiences on digital platforms, companies have pushed for a new wave of conversational content.
Content that doesn’t follow the rules.
That means that, as a writer, you shouldn’t be following the rules either.
Why should you break grammar rules?
Readers want fast and entertaining content.
What you learned in school is not necessarily what your readers want in today’s fast-paced, knowledge-driven society. According to the Neilson Norman Group for research, a user will, on average, navigate away from a web page in 10-20 seconds, reading only a quarter of the text on the page. Today’s users have access to hundreds of thousands of websites and material right at their fingertips. They’re looking to consume high amounts of information in a short period of time.
In addition, they’re looking for the content to be readable, relatable, and entertaining. They don’t want a bunch of facts and figures thrown at them without an understandable narrative associated with it. They don’t want to read a boring, conventional article when they could be reading a unique, opinionated post about the same topic.
Imagine that this article was instead just a list of grammar rules and English language guidelines. It would be like a study guide in your English high school course. You’d quickly leave this page in search for an article that you better related to, were entertained by, and could understand. But, because this is such an interesting article with a lighthearted and conversational tone, you’ve decided to stick around and learn more!
Entertaining your reader does not necessarily mean you need to have a “funny” voice in order to gain the attention of your readers. Instead, it means writing for your audience in a way that will keep them interested beyond the 20 seconds they typically stay on the page. It piques their interest because of tone, content, opinion, and viewpoint.
The audience will dictate how you write.
Most blogs are written for the every-man—the average person looking to gain more information on a subject. Because of this, bloggers and companies are opting for a more conversational, informal content tone than the traditionally formal content.
What if you’re writing to an audience of Fortune 100 CEOs? You may have a more serious, sophisticated tone because that is what that audience calls for. Nevertheless, Fortune 100 CEOS have the same two primary concerns as other readers: little time, interest in entertainment. Thus, a conversational tone could still connect with this group of readers in certain situations.
This is where breaking grammar rules comes in. You want to break those “formal” rules that make your writing stiff and calculated.
Bloggers and companies are opting for more informal, conversational content than the traditionally formal writer.
However, it’s important not to neglect these rules altogether. Grammar and structure are the foundation of strong writing. Instead, breaking grammar rules should be purposeful and decided. The goal is not to change the English language out of laziness, inexperience, or even rebellion. Rather, you are knowingly going against the typical and traditional form to create a specific brand voice, content tone, or emotional response from your content.
So when should you be breaking grammar rules to improve your writing? And when are breaking grammar rules not a good idea?
Breaking grammar rules #1: “Never start a sentence with and or but.”
You should never start a sentence with a conjunction. But in marketing, it’s okay when you’re trying to emphasize clear, concise, pointed statements. Starting a sentence with “and” or “but” will make a stronger point to your reader. For example:
“Amy never likes to break the rules when she writes. But sometimes she has to.”
The period after “she writes,” tells us that Amy is firm about sticking to the rules. The “but” at the beginning of the next sentence, though, stresses those moments where she does break the rules. This emphasizes the latter sentence. The “but” seems to be introducing a discussion about those moments where she wants to break the rules.
In opposition: “Amy never likes to break the rules, but sometimes she has to.”
This is more of a statement. It emphasizes the former part of the sentence, where the “but” after the comma is more of an after-thought. This seems to be an introduction into those times where it’s necessary for Amy to break the rules.
This grammar rule comes from a good place. “And” and “but” are conjunctions, meaning that they join two sentences into a single sentence. Grammatically, conjunction words aren’t needed when a period is in between the independent clauses.
But “and” and “but” can be useful tools to create a purposeful emphasis or shift in the piece’s topic and tone.
Breaking grammar rules #2: “Never use contractions.”
You can and should use contractions in informal writing. Contractions make a piece more approachable.
“It is a good idea to break the rules, but do not go overboard.”
This sentence feels forced and formal. You are forcing the reader to follow your strict directions.
In opposition: “It’s a good idea to break the rules, but don’t go overboard.”
This is more casual. It sounds like you are giving advice to a friend. That friend, aka your reader, is then more likely to take your advice because they relate to you and share the same language as you.
Contractions help better communicate with a conversational audience.
However, occasionally you should still follow the rule of no contractions:
- Don’t use contractions when the tone is more serious or formal.
- Don’t use contractions in business writing
- Don’t use colloquial contractions (like y’all or feelin’) unless you are writing for that specific audience or a sense of irony.
Breaking grammar rules #3: “Use paragraphs of 5-8 sentences.”
In your English class, you were likely taught that a paragraph is no shorter than 5 sentences and no longer than 8. In formal writing, this rule remains. In blogging, paragraphs should be short and concise.
Each paragraph should be about one specific topic—even if you only have one sentence to say about that topic. Then, you move on to the next paragraph with the next bit of information. If you have five sentences about why plants are green, put them all in the same paragraph. If you have two sentences about why violets are blue, put them in the same paragraph and move on.
Focus your paragraphs content subject rather than on length.
The longer the paragraph, the more likely your reader will skim or skip it. Remember- readers have very little time and patience. They want knowledge fast and quick. In this way, the structure of the page should be conducive to skimming. Short paragraphs with a lot of white space are more visually appealing and easier to read.
In fact, people are more likely to read 4 short paragraphs of 2 sentences than a long paragraph of 8 sentences. They are reading the same amount, but it feels shorter because of the length of the paragraph.
If you are making a surprising or pivotal point that is crucial to your piece, put it on its own line. You can even bold or italicize it. This helps emphasize that sentence by giving it its own space. In addition, these can be used as “shareable” lines: one-liners that can be shared or promoted on social media.
When blog writing, always include at least one sharable quote on its own line.
(See what I did there?)
Breaking grammar rules #4: “Never end a sentence with a preposition.”
Not ending a sentence with a preposition is generally a good rule of thumb to keep up your credibility as a writer and speaker.
“Where you at?” is easily replaced with “Where are you?”
However, in many instances, bloggers are neglecting this rule for the conversational aspect of marketing. For example:
“Derek Jeter was the star member on the team he played for,” is usually admissible in a blog because it is conversational and clear. “Derek Jeter was the star member on the team for which he played,” is technically correct—but it sounds forced, formal, and even a bit pretentious.
The main goal of breaking grammar rules is to better relate to your audience. It creates a conversation with your readers in their language and tone. It also emphasizes specific points by knowingly and purposefully going against traditional rules.
A great resource to help with this is the Associated Press Stylebook. Published every year, it gives journalists and writers the standardization of today’s writing and content marketing. It includes new accepted uses of words and even formatting guidelines that allow writers to create content that best relates to today’s reader. For example, this year’s change made an unbelievable splash: it’s now acceptable to use “they” as a singular pronoun.
Rules you should never break
Despite the positives that come with purposefully breaking grammar rules, there are four other rules you should always uphold for the purposes of clarity, structure, and sophistication.
1. Have a thesis statement.
Your “thesis” statement should be the main point of your article. Your readers should know instantly what the purpose for reading that given piece is.
In journalism, they call this “burying the lead.” The lead is the thesis or heart of the article. It’s whatever topic, event, or point you’re trying to get across. You don’t want to “bury the lead” in the article so it’s hard to understand what the piece is about. Instead, the lead should never be past the intro—let alone the 1st paragraph. If you can put the thesis statement in the headline or first sentence, you’re golden.
That’s why we recommend using a question mark in your titles and headers. The question mark will ask the question (or thesis point) that the article will then address.
2. Have an introduction, body, and conclusion.
Don’t write an article without any sort of structure. Having an introduction, clear headers, and summarizing conclusion will help to plan and organize your piece in a logical way. This is useful both for your personal writing organization and for the reader’s ability to follow the piece.
A clear structure ensures a reader will stay on the page longer, read more of your piece, and connect better with the content.
3. Use sources.
Sources and references give credibility to your piece. Even one link to an outside source can prove that your topic is relevant to the overall conversation in the industry. These embedded hyperlinks are also useful for SEO in the digital marketing world.
4. Follow simple grammar rules.
Punctuation and spelling should always be impeccable. There are very few moments where you should not follow the basics of grammar. If you don’t have strong spelling and punctuation, your writers will automatically assume you don’t know what you’re talking about with regards to the piece.
The way you present the information is directly correlated to how the reader will accept the information and acknowledge your brand’s credibility on that subject.
Do you tend to write more formally or informally? Do you feel comfortable breaking grammar rules purposefully and sophisticatedly?
Take a look at a recent post you’ve written. Is it formal or informal at first glance?
Reverse it. If it follows the above grammar rules in a formal way, break them. If it is more conversational, change the tone to be more formal by following language conventions.
What happens when you change the tone? What happens when you do and don’t use the traditional grammar rules? Which piece do you like better? Which piece better relates to your audience?
The Bottom Line
Breaking grammar rules helps you create a conversational tone that better relates to your audience’s style. It can also emphasize a specific point or goal that makes your piece “pop.” Together, this works to create striking, unique content that will hold your reader’s attention beyond the first quarter of the page.
Note: If you break too many rules, you’ll come off as a bad writer. If you break the right rules, you come off as a genius.