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12th Feb 2017

Showing Your Age

When rules no longer apply

The internet is bursting with grammatical advice. Whether it be old rules, new rules, conflicting or dictatorial, opinions are certainly plentiful. So often you may wish that you had never even sought counsel in the first place. Our worldís fast moving pace of technology, communication and social structures have resulted in significant and regular changes in linguistic patterns, trends and rules. This cannot help but impact on written grammatical habits.

There are no rules.

Before you even begin to consider the rules, you should consider what breaks the rules. Think about your audience. If youíre writing an informative paper, you should probably be writing in a conventional tone. If youíre composing advertising text, be concise. At the heart of business text should be your trade mission. Context is key: a book is structured differently to a case study. Text appears in so many formats and media that there can be few blanket rules.

And conjunctions?

The traditional rule is that you should not start a sentence with and, because, but, or also. In most cases, the sentence that starts with a conjunction could be part of the previous sentence using a pause or comma. Modern writing strives to hold a readerís attention by offering a variety of sentence length, and commas tend to limit us to longer sentences. Another exception for using conjunctions is after answering a question. Why? Because thatís how we normally respond to a question. Writing in conversational tone can make your content more appealing and easier to understand.

Spelling out numbers.

Conventionally if a number is smaller than nine it should be spelled out. Quite often, however, using a digit can catch the readerís attention and makes the content easier to digest. Consistency is also an advantage to readability, rather than switching format based purely on the size of the number.

Too many spaces.

Many people associate double spacing with days past. Others find it can render text unbalanced or distracting. However to some, the convention is ingrained and unchangeable. Our age of technology has seen modern fonts and software designed for single spaces. In actual fact typesetters have been using one space after a full stop for most of a century, but people who learned to type on mechanical typewriters were taught to use two spaces because monospaced fonts in which all letters have the same width leave white space on either side of slim letters like i and l. So two spaces at the end of sentences was meant to convey meaningful, rather than meaningless, space on the page.

Whatís it all about?

But in reality, grammar has little to do with aesthetic issues like one space or two. Grammar worries itself with how words hang together to make meaningful sentences. It has both inarguable rules and disputed ones. Textual conventions like two spaces or one and spelling out numbers, although lumped in with grammar, are really more about style. Style choices, by definition, cannot be wrong. Similarly the choices we make about conventions of tone, as we see when using conjunctions, should not be seen as breaking rules. They simply increase the power of your words.

So we return to what should really form the rules of your writing: your audience. Considering the people that will be reading your text, whether it sits on posters, leaflets or websites, can enable you to form a clear voice to communicate your corporate values. To make a connection with your potential customers, your language and style must be appropriate to that relationship. And if that means breaking a few old fashioned rules, then so be it!