Some Grammar "Rules" are Meant to be Broken

             

We would all agree that correct grammar is important in documents, right? Of course we would. But would we all agree that we should be breaking grammar rules at times? Grammar gives our language structure and helps us understand one another. But grammar can also be a problem. Grammar is a problem when writers become so obsessed by it that they're unable to write a coherent document or when we let grammar rules overrule our common sense. Writing, after all, is about content and how well we convey that content. You may argue, and rightfully so, that good content can't be relayed if grammar is poor. While that's true, writing a document that is grammatically perfect but that lacks good content is little better than writing a document that is grammatically flawed. 

The truth of the matter is that worrying about grammar, especially when we're writing, can do more harm than good. In other words, we should focus on getting our ideas out first and worry about grammar later (in fact, checking our grammar should be the last thing we do to the document). We always caution participants in our classes to avoid correcting their grammar as they write, because doing can change their focus from content, which involves high-level critical thinking, to a task that doesn't involve critical thinking. In other words, worrying about grammar can be a distraction.

We've all been taught grammar "rules" and, for some of us, these rules are not to be broken under any circumstances, lest the grammar police swoop down and take our documents or our seventh-grade English teacher find out and call us on the carpet. 

But some grammar rules, believe it or not, were invented for the convenience of the teacher and aren't based on logic. For instance, why is beginning a sentence with "and" or "but" a "bad" thing to do? Why should we not end our sentences with prepositions? And who says that a paragraph has to be five sentences? What if it takes more than five sentences to get your point across? Sometimes, breaking these "rules" makes good sense and creates a cleaner, easier to read document.

Consider that when we give an idea or concept its own sentence, we give it weight, or importance. Readability studies tell us that what's first in the sentence is what readers believe is most important. In the following sentence, I can emphasize by beginning the sentence with "but":
  • Sally wanted to go to work. But the bus was late.

The sentence doesn't have the same emphasis if I combine the two:
  • Sally wanted to go to work, but the bus was late.
Focusing more on what you wish to emphasize and less on grammar as you write will help you make good choices when writing. And when we make good choices that are based on our readers and the point we wish to convey, we're more likely to write a compelling document that gets the point across the first time. Yes, your documents should be grammatically correct but, more important, they should accurately convey your message and be easy to read and understand.