Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Better Writing Boot Camp – Stretch Break

We’re over half way through the boot camp – good job! How are you feeling about your progress so far?

While you’re taking a bit of a stretch break, I thought I’d make a couple general comments. These might be obvious, but I think they’re worth specifically pointing out.

It’s all about the reader
First and foremost, I’m hoping you’ve realized that the real secret to being a better writer is to focus on your reader’s needs. What we’re doing with each session is focusing on one thing that – if done well – will help your readers. In each Session I try explaining how or why improving in that one way will help make the reader’s job easier. For example, using transitions (Session 3) is a way to help guide the reader through your argument or idea. They help ensure the reader doesn’t veer off course – or miss any important points. Using active voice (Session 5) isn’t just about making things livelier – it makes clear to readers who’s responsible for actions or decisions.

Indeed, helping readers get through your document and understand the points you’re making is good for business. At a minimum, it shows you care and respect your readers. It also empowers them to make reasoned decisions and to take action. And, it makes you look smart – smart enough to share your knowledge and expertise in a way that they understand.

Don’t be a slave to old rules
The other point you may have noticed is that it’s ok to break some of the “rules”. Indeed, after the very first Session I got an email from a reader chiding me for splitting an infinitive. (If you missed it, the last sentence of Session 1 had the split infinitive that didn’t sit right with the reader.) You probably noticed in Session 2 that I ended a sentence with a preposition – another alleged grammar no-no. (Here’s the sentence: “The key to clear paragraphs is making sure each sentence relates to the theme or thesis you’re writing about.”)

There’s evidence that these “rules” were created by folks who were trying to make English grammar conform to Latin grammar. But, we’re living in the 21st century so there’s a strong argument these rules are irrelevant. Furthermore, applying them can result in awkward – or clumsy – sentences. For example, to ensure the correct emphasis, it’s often absolutely necessary to split an infinitive. Similarly, if it’s more natural to end a sentence with a preposition, feel free to. 

Another rule I routinely break relates to starting sentences with conjunctions like “and” or “but”. Many folks learned it’s incorrect to do so. I’ll bet you learned this “rule” in elementary school. There’s no basis in English grammar for this supposed rule, however. Teachers made this rule up to prevent you from making another grammatical mistake. Teachers thought that that by starting with “and” or “but”, students were more likely to write a sentence fragment. To prevent that possibility, they created the “rule” about not starting with those words. As long as you’re careful about crafting a sentence that includes a full thought, feel free to disregard what your elementary school teacher said.

Don’t be shy about sending feedback
And finally, I want to thank the readers who have dropped me a line. The feedback is great. It helps me understand what you’re finding useful, and what you might appreciate my help with. So, keep the feedback coming!

Until next session, keep up the terrific work!

© 2019 Good with Words