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Do Outdated Grammar Rules Hurt Technical Writing?

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Do grammar rules intimidate writers and overly complicate technical writing? It seems like there is a bottomless pit of traps and exceptions for English grammar and technical writing. But the main function of language is to communicate — not frustrate writers and readers. Technical writers need to concentrate on producing clear, concise, and effective documents and not stress about intricate grammar rules.

Preposition stranding
The dangling preposition rule is a good example of an outdated rule. For instance, everyone learns in grammar school that you shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition. This rule supposedly led Winston Churchill to defend himself from criticism after stranding a preposition: “This is the type of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put.”

The terminal preposition rule leads to innumerable awkward constructions like “From where do you hail?” or “About what are you talking?”

Because such sentences are confusing, many linguists and scholars scoff at this “rule.” Bryan Garner , in his comprehensive Garner’s Modern American Usage: The Authority on Grammar, Usage, and Style, refers to the dangling preposition rule as a superstition held over from Latin grammar. He goes on to say that the original point was to encourage writers to give every sentence a strong ending, but writers should be flexible about following the rule.

On Feb. 6, Slate introduced a new podcast called Lexicon Valley with co-hosts Bob Garfield and Mike Vuolo. The podcast discusses the history and usefulness of the dangling preposition. Apparently the rule started in 1760s, mainly because Bishop Robert Lowth felt that prepositions in the middle of a sentence were “more graceful” constructions.

Let grammar rules take the backseat
Good technical writing is defined by coherent structure and organization rather than meticulous, rigid adherence to all grammar rules. Carefully considering the audience and purpose will always produce comprehensible documents. Learn how to describe the big picture, and the grammar will fall into place. After all, isn’t that what copyeditors are for? (Oops, I mean “Isn’t for that why we have copyeditors?”)

Leave a comment or contact Hurley Write to learn more strategies for producing sound, readable documents. Our Resource Center offers many tips for technical writing, in many formats: whitepapers, videos, articles, and hurley write resource center . Take advantage of these free resources!

Do Outdated Grammar Rules Hurt Technical Writing?

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