Grammar is nit-picky and tricky, and it’s constantly evolving with our culture and turning hard-and-fast rules into bendable guidelines. Yes, there are still rules, but they can be a bit obscure or not entirely enforced in colloquial speaking, so we can run into situations in which following proper grammar rules makes writing sound overly formal or awkward to our ears. In cases like those, does your grammar have to be absolutely, 100% spot-on?
Three Situations in Which You Can Ignore Grammar Rules
Mama Leone raised a good girl. I’m a rule follower, even (some might say especially) when it comes to grammar. Where some might get a thrill from being so scandalous as to leave a dangling modifier, I only feel an overwhelming sense of shame and guilt. I don’t break grammar rules; I enforce them. Proper grammar elevates writing to a level of clarity and ease that makes reading easy. It should be followed. But sometimes, grammar has to take a backseat, and rules have to be broken for the greater good. Here’s a few of those times when it’s okay to break them.
1. When it’s not up to you.
Does proper grammar really matter? To me, yes—if it’s wrong, it’s wrong. Rules have been broken. You know how to fix it, but you’re choosing to ignore it. Shame on you! Shame! But here’s the kicker—does it really matter what I think? The final say goes to the publisher first, and the writer second. Or, in the case of writing marketing copy, the client.
In college I had a professor who absolutely hated a short story I’d written for class—he told me so in our one-on-one review two weeks before this three-month project was due. I had liked what I had done, but my personal pride in a project came second to his red pen, so I started it over. The grade mattered more than the story. In that same vein, the person a copywriter is trying to please is their client, and the person a client is trying to please is their customer. As marketing copywriters, we’re all acting in our clients’ best interests, but in the end, it’s not our decision what gets published and sent.
I’ve often proofed a client’s work with grammatical errors and had the client flat out tell me to ignore them. A part of my soul rots off and dies, and I throw a personal two-minute hissy fit at the injustice of it all—and then I take a breath, stop being dramatic, and move on. You did your job and gave them good copy—even if you don’t think it was great copy—and now it’s out of your hands.
2. When grammar takes away from your writing.
Grammar to me isn’t a writing style or choice; it’s what allows writing to work at its fullest potential. So if you’re writing an informal piece, and using correct grammar takes it to the realm of Wordsworth, it’s okay to take a step back and evaluate what you’re writing and for whom you’re writing.
More often than not, a rewrite can solve both problems. But sometimes, that solution is evasive. If speed is of utmost importance, or rewriting turns a minor detail into a two-sentence long explanation, grammar can distract from the more important parts of your writing. In cases like those, grammar isn’t serving its purpose of making your writing clear and easy to understand, so putting reader comprehension first (and forgoing grammar in favor of shorter copy and a specific call to action) is the lesser of two evils.
3. When style and voice mean more.
One major writing tactic that many fiction writers and direct marketers often employ to create the feeling of a personal communication is to have the mailpiece, email, etc. written in first person, as though a real person is writing to them directly. For marketing copywriters, that means having your writing take on a specific style and tone—a personality, if you will—to better sell the one-to-one communication.
One of the easiest ways to do this is by employing dialect and a conversational tone. What makes you think, “This isn’t a real person?” Having too-perfect grammar. Humans don’t speak with perfect grammar—our brains and mouths are moving too fast for us to be that eloquent. Of course, grammar should be correct in any written communication, if only to keep the writing comprehensible and fluid, but for personal communications, being too perfect can break the spell and make the text feel stiff and robotic, rather than friendly and conversational.
Writers also need to consider elements of the direct mail design, like whose signature is going on the mailpiece. If it’s coming from a “financial advisor,” do you really think that grammar is going to be their strong suit? (No offense to any financial advisors out there.) Developing a persona and voice and allowing the writing to be conversational trumps minor grammar infractions. Again, it’s about the greater good—which is more important?
Want to know if your situation can snub grammar? Contact me today—I’ll be happy to let you know if it’s okay to turn the other cheek. (And don’t worry—I won’t tattle on you, you rule-breaker.)
Subscribe to SpeakingDIRECT to have new articles delivered to your inbox as they post. We promise to keep it fresh and interesting.