Friday, March 25, 2011

Are You Mastering Grammar Yet? By Beth Ann Erickson

Are You Mastering Grammar Yet?
By Beth Ann Erickson

Every now and again I receive an e-mail informing me that a number
of the articles on the website are not
grammatically correct.

As helpful as these e-mail writers are, I'm once again compelled to
mention this: the writer's job is to not write a grammatically
correct sentence, the writer's job is to communicate.

Let me explain: 

I memorized a good number of grammar rules while working on my
communications degree at St. Cloud State.  Strunk, White and I
became good buddies.
However, despite my marvelous education, after I graduated, I had a
LOT of trouble landing copywriting assignments -- and when I did
get them, the clients weren't particularly happy with the results.
So, I hired a personal copywriting coach -- a professional
copywriter who's sold millions of dollars worth of products and
services through the mail.  He also holds a PhD in English. He
asked me to e-mail samples of my best writing so he could get a
taste of my style.

After spending a good part of a week separating the "flawless"
samples from the mere "excellent" ones, I whipped together an
e-mail, attached the appropriate documents, then waited for his

When it arrived, I wasn't prepared for his response: "I can tell
you'll be an excellent writer because you write great e-mails. The
rest of your writing sucks, but your e-mail text is perfect."

Boy. Talk about a deflating experience.

He went on to say, "Forget everything you learned about grammar,
language usage, and sentence structure.  Your writing doesn't
communicate.  It's too perfect.  You need to speak the language of
your reader... just like you do in your e-mails.  If you don't speak
directly to your reader -- and do it EVERY time you write -- you
won't be an effective copywriter.  Period."

So I began my illustrious copywriting career pretending everything
I wrote was going to be included in an e-mail.
After spending considerable time perfecting a conversational tone
in everything I wrote, my writing career really took off. Articles
started selling. I found a home for my novels. Copywriting
assignments started flowing in.

Although it pained me to break grammar rules, I now find it
liberating to know I have the freedom to effectively communicate a
message without wondering if I should allow a participle to dangle. 
So do I occasionally break grammar rules?  Yup.  Will I continue to
break them?  Yup.
Walking the fine line between creating effective communication and
grammatically correct word usage is always an interesting battle,
with effective communication winning more often than not.

But don't take my word for it.
This week, take a good listen to the conversations taking place
around you.  Try to replicate -- in writing -- what you've
heard. You're about to transcribe some interesting phrases!

After you've done this, "capture their language" by writing
something that would persuade those same people to do something you
want them to do -- whether you're hoping to get them to read one of
your articles, purchase something you're selling, or buy a product
a client has hired you to promote.
It's an interesting exercise, one that hopefully illustrates the
notion that writing that effectively communicates is almost always
more powerful than grammatically correct, perfect sentences.  When
you speak the language of your reader, you'll be able to capture
and hold their interest.  When you capture and hold your reader's
interest, that's when truly effective communication takes place.

And isn't that the goal of almost every writer?


Beth Ann Erickson is the Queen Bee of Filbert Publishing, author of
nine titles, editor of Writing Etc., and dog lover. She likes her
family, too.
You can check out her latest three volume set here:
This article is courtesy of Filbert Publishing. Make your writing
sparkle, write killer queries, get published. Subscribe to Writing
Etc., the free e-mag for freelancers and receive the e-book "Power


  1. Interesting article. I must admit, I'm a subscriber to Writing Etc., but behind on my reading of what I get in my emails. Looks like I better find time to catch up on reading my newsletters and such, because I'm missing some good articles. Thanks for sharing this, Penny!

  2. Hi Suasanne, thanks for stopping by. Beth usually has some good information in her newsletters. I love she allows others to share her words.