Posted tagged ‘clarity’

Clear Communication Is the Key To Writing

April 13, 2009

strunkwhiteIn my inbox today, I found a message from CopyBlogger on a subject which interests me: Three Grammar Rules You Can (And Should) Break. In an article by Michelle Pierce, she encourages writers to question the rules which we have had beaten into us by our teachers and others who happen to be well-versed in the written word and applicable grammar rules.

1. Ending a sentence with a preposition

I have no idea where this rule came from. What I do know is that many people, in an effort to keep from ticking off the Grammar Police, start twisting their sentences around so as not to end them with prepositions.

Unfortunately, more often than not, the new syntax is terribly awkward and painful to read. Take the first sentence of this section, for example. “From where this rule came” sounds like something Yoda would say, not me. A big part of blogging is showing your personality through words. How can you do that when you’re twisting your phrases to suit some archaic rule?

In the interest of clarity and readability, it’s quite all right to end a sentence with a preposition.

Did you get that? “In the interest of clarity and readability…” That means it’s okay to write (or say), “Where y’all from?” I remember a Designing Women episode in which MaryJo posed that question to a woman with whom she shared an elevator. The woman replied, “We are from somewhere where we know not to end a sentence with a preposition.”

Without missing a beat, MaryJo rephrased her question, “Where y’all from, bitch?”

Although I will usually let a preposition at the end of a sentence or question slide, my blood pressure and rockets skyward when I hear the preposition “at” as an ending: “Where you at?” or “Where do you work at?”

2. Beginning a sentence with “and” or “but”

Somebody, somewhere, once decided that you shouldn’t begin sentences with conjunctions. Maybe it was an overzealous teacher who thought her students were doing it too much. My guess is that it was frustrated mothers who got sick and tired of hearing their children start every single sentence with “But Mo-om!”

The rule even got screen time in the movie Finding Forrester, when Sean Connery and Rob Brown have an entire conversation about it (and deliberately start their sentences with the offending words in order to make their points).

Regardless of how it began, you don’t have to stick with it. It’s perfectly all right to start your sentences with “and” or “but.” It’s a great way to grab attention and emphasize a point. But, as in all things, take it in moderation.

I completely agree with the breaking of this rule. Both “But” and “And” are transitional words which form a bridge to thoughts conveyed in the previous paragraph. A journalism professor once explained to the class that it is acceptable to use transition words like these at the beginning of a paragraph. And that’s what I tend to do on a regular basis.

But that does not mean that the writer should begin an article or post using those words.

3. Splitting infinitives

How often have you heard that you’re not allowed to let another word come between “to” and its verb? Some people hold that construction with the same reverence as is typically given to marriage: that which the writer hath wrought together, let no man tear asunder.

Except that it’s really not that big of a deal. Come on: “to go boldly where no man has gone before” just doesn’t have the same ring to it as “to boldly go.” If it sounds better to split the infinitive, then take an axe to it!

Don’t cling to the ancient rules just because your high school English teacher told you to. Be a rebel and break free of these nonsensical shackles!

Though I usually try to adhere to the grammatical rules I have been taught while both speaking and writing, sometimes this rule is appropriate to break. “Boldly to go” doesn’t have the same ring to it as “to boldly go…”

Though our English teachers would like us to think that all these rules were handed down to Moses like The Ten Commandments, they were not. And except for a few self-important grammarians, most people understand that sometimes rules can be broken…or at least bent!

The important thing is for what you have written to convey the intended message with as little chance of misinterpretation as possible.

How ’bout it?

Is Your Message Getting Through?

November 30, 2007

Or is it saying something you don’t intend?

With so many salespeople and motivational speakers out there, it’s easy to think that they know all about interpersonal communications. The ones I’ve seen, have talked at a break-neck pace, giving the audience the impression that they know about what it is they pontificate.

Recently, I realized this fact. I was listening to a well-established professional speaker who is more professionally successful than I am, but I kept hearing these minute slip-ups as he spoke. “Allow him and I…” is one example I heard. No big deal, right? Well, to those arrogant twits, like me, who have an uncanny ability to remember grammatical rules, it is a big deal. You wouldn’t say, “Allow I to…,” so why would you say “Allow him and I to…”?

Again, I apologize that maybe I should have more tact, but this is what I know. Others know about management, investments, tax laws, and technology. I’m a “grammar geek,” if I may use a term of Laurie Rauchwho authors a blog of that name. To folks like me, and probably to Laurie, having these little distractions during someone’s presentation is sort of like trying to listen to a football game and do your income taxes.

I don’t claim to be perfect, but I’m constantly crafting my message so it gets through to the intended audience. It takes me what seems like a long time to me to write. (Others say that it doesn’t take me nearly as long as it would take them.) I speak slowly. Partly because I think about what it is that I want to say. (I have an aversion to the word “lot,” though it’s grammatically acceptable to use it when talking about an amount of something: i.e. lots to do, lots of friends, lots of contacts, etc. I think a lot is either where your house sits or where you go to buy a car.)

I’m constantly diagramming sentences, creating outlines, and alluding to books, movies, or what someone recently said, and I’m doing this all in my head, so sometimes, I’m not the best keynote speaker you could afford. HA!

However, writing/speaking slowly does have its advantages, sometimes. I have been offended when someone has said, “Well, if you can’t afford $X, then you need all the business you can get.” Basically, if you come to me and offer something which could “change my life,” and I say that I can’t afford it, you should know that you’ve not done a good job selling because I’m not totally convinced. It’s my way of giving you and whatever your trying to sell me the finger.

How ’bout it?