Whether or not you’re a professional copywriter, you’ve probably had to choose whether to follow the grammar rules we all learned in school or go a bit rogue. It’s something we get asked about a lot in the world of copywriting; so how do you decide?
With language constantly evolving, many grammar rules have fallen by the wayside or can at least be ignored to suit the context. That isn’t to say they don’t still have a place within copywriting, but sticking rigidly to them can actually harm website copy and other SEO content, such as blogs. So how can you change it up?
Good. Old. Evolution
The way we speak has evolved (how many people said ‘selfie’ in 1926?) and online content needs to reflect this. Look at the work of anyone offering content writing services – they try to engage and appeal to the audience by echoing how they speak, rather than using the dusty grammar manuals of bygone years.
As most of those rules were developed over a century ago, they tend to formalise language, so are a teensy bit outdated. This is especially true in the digital space, such as mobile apps, SEO website content and blogging, which tend to be more colloquial and informal.
Go on you rebel BREAK SOME RULES
So, let’s get our professional writer hats on, and look at some rules it’s OK to break.
1. Don’t start a sentence with ‘And’. One of the first grammar rules we all learn is not to start a sentence with a conjunction such as ‘and’. But (there’s another!) this is often ignored in good copywriting. You’ll see most copywriters using ‘and’ or ‘but’ at the beginning of the sentence, as it’s a good way to break a long sentence and can also add impact. Breaking this rule is a great way to make sure you’re writing effective website copy and making blogs easier to read.
2. Don’t us slang. With formal writing, it’s best to avoid colloquial language and slang terms wherever possible. But, good copywriting connects with the audience by ‘speaking’ as they do. Slang is one of the best ways to connect to readers in a friendly and natural way. A great example of this is Barlcays Bank renaming the ‘Cashpoint’ the ‘Hole in the wall’.
3. Avoid one-sentence paragraphs. When writing for a digital audience, you’ll want your SEO content to be easy to read. Audiences often skim-read for quick answers and important information. One-sentence paragraphs are a useful way to make key points stand out in your copywriting, especially in SEO content.
4. Don’t miss out, ‘that’. Missing out words in your copywriting isn’t going to work if no one knows what you’re talking about. But sometimes it’s useful, especially in website content or blogging, where shorter sentences are better. It’s perfectly acceptable to miss out words if the meaning of the sentence remains the same. For example: ‘Ann was sure that she’d win…’ works just as well as, ‘Ann was sure she’d win…’.
5. Use commas ‘properly’. Most of us, freelance copywriters included, were taught to use commas sparingly and in specific circumstances, such as to create lists or join clauses. But it’s fine to break this rule by using commas more often. As a copywriter, using commas is a way to set the flow and interpretation of a sentence. Here’s an example, a comma can dictate a pause.
6. Never split infinitives. We all know not to split infinitives right? Wrong. This is another grammar ‘don’t’ freelance copywriters often ignore. But it’s not about making a hard and fast rule about whether it’s okay to make like a banana and split, especially in their website content or blogs. Most copywriters look at the sentence structure and decide based on what sounds best in each case.
7. Don’t swap ‘whom’ for ‘who’. Knowing whether to choose ‘whom’ or ‘who’ has baffled even some professional writers for years. These days it’s more common to swap ‘whom’ for ‘who’, though ‘whom’ is still used in formal writing. A lot of freelance copywriters use ‘who’ instead’, depending on the audience, the tone of voice and of course subject matter. A good copywriter is led by context, rather than pre-conceived rules and ideas.
8. Don’t finish with a preposition. Allowing yourself to end on a proposition will help avoid awkward, overlong sentence structure, so freelance copywriters often break this rule. Instead of focusing on whether or not a sentence ends with a preposition, think like a copywriter – about how the sentence reads. This is far more important when it comes to engaging readers and creating a tone of voice, key concerns for SEO website content and blogging.
9. Always use ‘correct’ personal pronouns. He. She. Him. Her. For a long time these were all you needed. But with more people identifying as neither male or female and a wider awareness of gender fluidity, we need another term. So, if you’re writing about someone who’d rather not be classified or who you’re unsure about, the best approach is to use ‘they’. For example, “Sam is a pilot, they’ve always loved flying.” See? Easy.
10. Do not use contractions. Though it’s best to avoid them in formal writing, it’s okay to use contractions with an informal audience. Generally, people want to read stuff that sounds like they speak. And most people don’t speak formally (lawyers, the Queen and her corgis aside). Most writing, including SEO content such as websites and blogging works best when it sounds natural and engaging, and contractions really help.
Breaking grammar rules, rather than landing you on the naughty step, can make a step change in the effectiveness of your copywriting. Using your judgement, based on context, will help make sure your tone of voice suits the brand and subject – as well as creating that all-important connection with your audience. So, whether you’re a freelance copywriter who wants to make their work more effective or another professional keen to write better, remember, some rules were made to be broken.