Writing ‘Rules’ You Can Toss

Are you always worried about making mistakes when you need to write something? Then I’ve got good news for you! Lots of old writing rules just don’t apply anymore. And these business writing tips are all about which rules you can toss!

Do you have flashbacks of an old English teacher every time you sit down to do some writing? Or do you picture red pen scrawled across your writing before you even get started? Then you’re going to love this blog!

You can stop worrying about writing rules and start focusing on connecting with your audience! Because some of those old writing rules can go straight to the trash—and stay there.

If you only have seconds, here are the business writing rules you can stop following:

  • Never say ‘you’ or ‘I’
  • Never start a sentence with ‘if’, ‘because’, ‘but’, or ‘and’
  • Leave two spaces after a period
  • Get your ‘whom’ and ‘who’ straight
  • Never use ‘they’ for a single person
  • Never use contractions
  • Be formal
  • Follow all the rules

Outdated business writing rule #1: Never say ‘you’ or ‘I’

Which sounds better:

A businessperson will save time with this software.

Or

You will save time with this software.

Using ‘you’ and ‘I’ makes writing feel personal. And that’s a good thing, no matter what business you’re in. Because when it’s personal, you connect with the reader. And when you connect with the reader, they’re far more likely to take action (like buying your software).

So relax, and write your email/blog/web content as if you’re talking to the person who’s reading it.

Outdated business writing rule #2: Never start a sentence with ‘if’, ‘because’, ‘but’ or ‘and’

This rule is one that every copywriter loves to break. And now you can break it too! Starting a sentence with a conjunction (words like if, because, when, and, but, or…) makes the content sound approachable. So go for it! (Yes, you can start a sentence with ‘so’.)

Notebook with If Not Now When written in it

Outdated business writing rule #3: Leave two spaces after a period

Wanna show your age fast? Add two spaces after a period when you’re writing! I don’t know when this stopped being a rule. It certainly was when I was in high school in the 90s. But it’s not anymore.

Once you get used to seeing a single space after every period, two spaces will stand out like a bright yellow hat at a funeral.

Full parking lot with 2 empty spaces

Outdated business writing rule #4: Get your ‘whom’ and ‘who’ straight

Sometimes I still get caught worrying about this rule. Turns out ‘whom’ is becoming less and less of a thing. You can almost always get away with using ‘who’ (and you can stop worrying if you’ve got it right).

The best choice is the one that makes the sentence sound like a natural part of a conversation.

Hands holding letters spelling whom

Outdated business writing rule #5: Never use ‘they’ for a single person

I really like calling this one outdated! I used to try so hard to use a blend of ‘he’ and ‘she’ without sounding weird. Now, there are so many times when using ‘they’ or ‘them’ is the perfect, inclusive word choice.

Like this:

Since your customer is always right, ask them what they like!

When your IT technician arrives on site, they’ll show you their photo id.

Hands holding sign with They/Them written on it

Of course, it’s still OK to use someone’s pronouns when you’re writing about a specific person (and you know their pronouns). But when you don’t know pronouns, or you want to include every gender, or you just don’t want to sound like you’re restricting an entire group
of people to being she/he, then use ‘they’.

Outdated business writing rule #6: Never use contractions

A contraction is a combination of two words into one. Things like can’t, don’t, and aren’t. And not only can you use them, you should use them! (Wait… did I just make up a grammar rule?)

Contractions make writing sound normal! They make for easier and smoother reading.

I remember the first big contract I got as a writer. The lovely business owners had hired a consultant who was helping them start their business. This consultant used to be a scientific writer, and she was adamant that we would not be using any contractions.

Never use contractions

Even as a newbie writer, I could tell that this made the content sound stiff, but I was too afraid of losing the job to speak up. Turns out that I lasted longer than the consultant. When she left, the owners were delighted to have me go back and soften the content with
contractions.

Outdated business writing rule #7: Be formal

That leads perfectly into another writing rule you can break: being formal. Writing does not need to sound like you have a dictionary stuck at the back of your throat. In fact, the simpler your writing, the better!

The purpose of writing is to communicate. So, make sure your readers can understand you by using language that’s easy to understand. If you’d like to learn more about this, stay tuned for our upcoming blog on Plain Language writing.

Man wearing tacky tuxedo t-shirt

Outdated business writing rule #8: Follow all the rules

The English language is constantly evolving, which means grammar rules are changing. Don’t feel constrained by grammar rules. They aren’t set in stone! Even some of the things I’ve shared here might be out of date in a few years. That’s ok.

If you’re accused of breaking a grammar rule, take a few minutes to look up other similar writing. Sure, if other writers are following the rule, you might want to follow it too. After all, it may be what your readers expect.

But that doesn’t mean the rule is set in stone.

Stone with THE RULES carved in it

I really hope that reading these business writing tips has encouraged you to write more! If you’ve always loved to write, or you really want to be a part of your business’ content creation, go for it. And don’t let those old grammar rules stop you from connecting with your audience, whoever they are.

One final thought: If you hate writing, don’t. I know you’ve got lots of things you love to do—and lots of things that only you can do. Focus on those and hire out the writing.

Here at Saltmedia, we know that offering writing services is an important way to support some of our clients. We’ve helped clients with web content, emails, marketing campaigns, blogs, newsletters, articles, and press releases. And when that content goes out, it has your name on it, because you own the content.

So, however you get your writing done, relax and enjoy the process without a bunch of outdated rules holding you back.

About Carmen Klassen

I'm Writer at Saltmedia.  As Saltmedia’s Content Manager, I use words to make your business shine. Let’s tell some stories!

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