It's all about the STORY!

There are some rules about writing–good rules–that should never be broken. However, there are other rules that, well, sometimes bending them once in a while is a great idea. Here are some tips:

  1. Split infinitives: go ahead and split them. This is often needed for effect: “To boldly go where no man has ever gone before” does not have the same impact as “To go boldly where no man has ever gone before. I’m not saying break the rule every time. But here and there, as accents, go ahead. Plus, there’s a lot of debate as to whether the rule is “real” anyway. What I mean is, it will be challenging to find a rule about split infinitives in modern grammar and style books.
  2. Do not begin your sentences with a conjunction: this is true. Never begin a sentence with a conjunction that’s being used as a conjunction to bind two sentences or as in part of a series. Go ahead if every once in a while, you want to begin a sentence with a conjunction for conversational style. Just keep it to a minimum, okay?
  3. Capitalization of professional titles: ALWAYS capitalize titles preceding a person’s name, as this is part of the proper noun. ALWAYS use undercase letters in titles following a person’s name, as this is being used as an adjective–not a proper noun. Here’s the bendy part: when the company you work for is insistent that you use capital letters always in titles AND whatever your writing won’t be published, at least not with your name on it.
  4. Commas: first rule: less is more. The fewer commas you use, the better, because it breaks up the flow of the copy for the reader. There are some rules to comma usage, and if you are writing formally, such as in a published article, you need to keep to the letter of the rule. Yet, in informal writing such as in blog posts, memos, fliers, etc. the rule here is: when in doubt leave it out. One note of caution, please be consistent.
  5. Master rules for bending rules: a) Be consistent within the same document; b) know when you’re writing something formal or informal before you start bending rules; c) Know the rules you are bending to avoid making actual mistakes; and d) Don’t bed rule all of the time, or this could be seen as you don’t know the rules.
  6. The best resource EVER for writing style and usage is Elements of Style by Strunk and White. Go ahead, and pick up a copy.

There’s a caveat here: do not bend these rules if you are still in school, and this include college, undergraduate and graduate. Also, do not bend these rules if you are writing a cover letter to a new potential employer or writing a query letter to an editor. Why? In school, you are still being taught how to write, and you need to be certain that you know all of the rules before you begin bending them. Even in college, including grad school, you know you already know how to write well, but I promise you that many of your professors still question this faith you have in yourself and will “red pen” your drafts for every hiccup they can identify in grammar, usage, style and, yes, content and organization.

 

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