6 reasons to break common writing rules

Communicators’ adherence to AP style is paramount in producing clear and compelling copy. However, this writer argues that deviating from writing guidelines can produce positive consequences.

Deviating from the rules can be a liberating experience.

As writers and editors, we frequently enforce style, grammar, spelling and punctuation guidelines within our organizations or for our clients.

However, we also know that it’s occasionally necessary to disregard those same edicts.

Here’s what can happen when we break writing rules:

1. Your sentences flow better.

Take the rule of never starting a sentence with a conjunction (and, but, nor, for, yet, so). Doing so has always been frowned upon, but “and” and “but” are two of the most useful devices for connecting one sentence to the next. They help your readers connect the dots.

2. Your writing is more descriptive.

Using a noun as a verb is usually frowned upon in formal writing. However, a colleague once used “Frankenstein” as a verb and it was quite descriptive. I knew exactly what she meant when she said “I need to Frankenstein those images.”

If no other word will do—or if it will enable you to write a cleaner sentence—use a noun as a verb.

3. You achieve greater clarity.

This is best illustrated with the singular “they.”

We were all taught that the singular “they” is bad grammar. Most style guides say its use is unacceptable in formal writing, yet avoiding the singular “they” can sometimes make a sentence unwieldy and unclear.

Take the sentence, “Someone who knows where they’re going should drive.” How would you “fix” this without creating an awkward sentence? In certain circumstances, it’s okay to break the rules for the sake of clarity.

4. Your writing is more creative.

Remember the “stream of consciousness” writing exercises you did in high school English class? We were instructed to write in a continuous flow, not thinking about sentence structure or punctuation.

When you turn off the left-brain, rule-following and editing part of your mind, your creative side takes over. Tell yourself, “I can do whatever I want with this”—and see what happens.

5. It can help you enforce more important rules later.

Think of it as “choosing your battles.” After years of fighting it, I finally gave up on enforcing the AP Stylebook rule to capitalize titles that appear before names, but not after names.

Everywhere I’ve worked, this rule has been incorporated into our house style guide—where we get push back on it. So, I’ve given up on enforcing this rule, but will stand firm on more important AP style rules.

6. It feels good.

Breaking the rules can be very liberating. When done in well-reasoned way that results in clearer, cleaner sentences, you can feel unfettered.

How about you, Ragan readers? What has relaxing the writing rules done for you?

A regular contributor to PR Daily, Laura Hale Brockway is an Austin-based writer and editor. She is also the author of the writing, editing, and random thoughts blog impertinentremarks.com.

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