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When is it ok to break the rules of writing?

My friend pointed out my use of paragraphs in my WhatsApp message to her the other day. She found it hilarious because of what I do for a job.

I feel I should point out that I don’t put paragraphs in my messages because I’m a fierce traditionalist who believes content should be the same no matter which channel it’s written on.

I do it because, on a purely selfish level, I want to get across everything I have to say in one message without getting interrupted. There’s nothing more frustrating than getting a reply to your previous message when you’re in the middle of writing another one.

Social media and text messaging often get the blame for why more and more people have difficulty using correct spelling and grammar these days.

Grammar is also becoming more relaxed online and it seems to be a sign of the times that it’s becoming more acceptable to break the rules of writing.

There are times when even I break the rules, particularly when using social media and text messaging. But I find myself breaking the rules even in my everyday content writing. I’ve already broken a few in this blog. Can you spot them?

6 writing rules you’re allowed to break

1. Writing numbers 1-9 numerically

Traditionally we’ve been taught to spell out numbers one to nine and use numbers from 10 onwards. However, any extra characters you can save can come in very handy when drafting a tweet. It’s also becoming more common to use numbers in headlines in digital content due to readability – the sub-heading I’ve used above, for instance!

2. Using sentence fragments

Put simply, a sentence fragment doesn’t include one of the three components that make it a complete sentence – a subject, a verb and a complete thought. One of the most common sentence fragments I use in my communication – both in text and email – is ‘Looking forward to seeing you’. This is a sentence fragment because it’s missing the subject. To make it complete, you’d need to add ‘we’re’ or ‘I’m’, but it makes sense without a subject.

3. Starting a sentence with a conjunction

At school we were taught never to start a sentence with ‘and’ or ‘but’. But this is very traditional and it’s now a common way to emphasise a point and provide a more conversational tone. I can just see Mrs King, my English teacher, frowning and wagging her finger at me while reading this blog.

4. Ending a sentence with a preposition

In a nutshell, a preposition is a word that explains the time, space or logical relationship between other parts of the sentence. Examples of prepositions include ‘on’, ‘to’, ‘for’, ‘from’, ‘up’ and ‘with’. Again, Mrs King would be shaking her head in horror at the thought of ending a sentence with ‘on’ as I have done at the end of paragraph 3. Nowadays, it’s common to write how you speak, which is why you’ll often see a preposition at the end of a sentence.

5. Using an Oxford comma

It's a big no-no for some traditional linguists, but an Oxford comma can help avoid any misinterpretation. An Oxford comma (or serial comma, as it's sometimes known) is the last comma in a list of things. For example:

I love my friends, Claudia Winkleman, and Thierry Henry.

The Oxford comma is the one before the 'and'. Without it, you might think that I love my friends, who are Claudia Winkleman and Thierry Henry - if only!

I tend to read what I've written aloud and add in an Oxford comma if I feel the sentence could be misinterpreted in any way.

6. Using slang

‘Gotta’, ‘kinda’, ‘gonna’ …these are all familiar words I use in my text speak. And again, when characters are limited, these little weapons can be a godsend when writing for social media. However, I wouldn’t use them in a formal setting – I’m not brave enough!

True story

The purpose of social media is to communicate. So, as long as you’re getting your message across clearly, don’t worry about breaking the rules. Be careful though, as it can be easy to misinterpret a text due to a lack of punctuation, a sentence fragment or ending a sentence with a preposition.

I got myself into an embarrassing situation when a work colleague messaged me simply saying ‘Weekend away?’ I was taken aback by his brazen proposition, especially as we were both married. However, I later found out he meant “Were you away at the weekend?” Oh, how we laughed!

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