Usually when I am writing for websites, or advising others in the same pursuit, I pay very close attention to the rules of grammar in order to avoid sounding like an idiot on the web. This is generally a good rule. However, there are times when it is more effective to sound like a relatable human and not your sixth grade English teacher who never seemed to be able to connect with her audience. Here are 5 rules of grammar that are okay to break when writing for your website:
1. Ending a sentence with a preposition. We all know it’s grammatically correct to write “There are many colors of pen with which you can sign our petition.” Now, I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a stuffy petition. Your website reader will probably respond better to something like, “There are tons of pen colors you may sign our petition with.”
2. Using some slang words. Sometimes it’s okay, or even encouraged, to use slang words in order to appeal to your audience, show your social relevance, or avoid sounding like an out-of-touch robot. However, if you wouldn’t be comfortable using the word or phrase in, say, the company of your pastor or a new client, don’t put it on your website. If you’re a skateboard company, DO write “we have sick new boards in inventory!” Refrain from writing, “we just received bitchin new boards.” Oh dear, I’ve just broken my own rule.
3. Beginning a sentence with ‘And’ or ‘But.’ Typically this is still a no-no in my book, unless you truly are striving for a conversational tone. For example, I won’t start a sentence with ‘and’ if I am writing a PDF of standard procedures. But I will start a sentence with ‘but’ if I am trying to show my reader what I sound like during normal conversation. And I might even do it more than once if I think I’m being witty.
4. Using incomplete sentences. According to your grammar book, you shouldn’t use fragments ever because they don’t make sense when taken out of context and they do make your writing seem choppy. Sometimes, however, they just fit. For example, you tell your reader “Have you been saving for retirement but aren’t sure if it’s going to be enough? We understand.” Well, taken out of context, “we understand” doesn’t mean anything, but in this case it tells your reader you know what they are going through and want to help, in a lot less words.
5. Using contractions. It used to be the case that in business writing you would never use contractions because they were not seen as part of formal speech. While some companies may choose to stick to this credo, less formal establishments may want to move away from this style of writing for the web. For example, it is perfectly normal for a law office to want to appear sophisticated, thorough, and of course, a company to be taken seriously. On the other hand, a health food store may want to seem warmer and more casual to its customer base. There is no right or wrong answer here, but do think about what your audience is expecting to hear from you.
I could go on, as most writers I know have very sharp opinions when it comes to grammar, but I promised I would only give you 5 Grammar Rules to Break. As a bonus, I would like to give you one rule of grammar NEVER to break, and that is misspelling. No one thinks it’s kewl to make that mistake.