Gracewriting Tip: Be a Grammar Rebel

There is Grace in Gracewriting

You have to learn the rules before you can break them. At least that’s what our English teachers told us, and that’s what we teach about grammar in our Gracewriting workshops. But, is it okay to break the rules?

Now, some folks can be careless or even clueless when it comes to grammar rules. And, you have to be careful because random rule breaking can call your credibility into question.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are people who view grammar rules as absolutes and have heart palpitations over typos. Their goal is to make your writing perfect — which, by the way, it never will be.

So (brace yourself, Grammar Police!), we believe it’s occasionally okay to bend grammar rules.

Bending rules can demonstrate a command of language and an ability to wield it. These grammar and style choices are often about creating brand, voice or theme. To win work, we have to be great storytellers, and breaking a few rules can enhance your storytelling.

Need proof? Consider Charles Dickens, who was king of the comma splice. Or, there’s E. E. Cummings; he broke every capitalization rule on the planet. And, Jane Austen used double negatives. Gasp! These prolific writers occasionally made grammatical errors, and sometimes, they made those errors intentionally because they wanted to tell a great story.

Now, if your grammar rebelliousness distracts your reader, you’ve made a poor choice. Good writers know how and when to bend the rules. So, before you take that risk, ask yourself these questions:

Does breaking this grammar rule make my writing more conversational and reader-friendly? Writing conversationally can help you connect with your reader. You relax your style, and people feel more comfortable because you’re talking with them and not at them.

Have I considered tone of voice? Tone is a tough topic — context, culture and generation influence tone of voice. But, it’s safe to say a formal tone usually adheres more closely to traditional writing conventions, and in that situation, you should mind your grammar manners.

Does breaking this rule make my writing clearer? If adhering to grammar rules makes your writing more confusing, then it’s time for a little rebellion. Take, for example, Winston Churchill. Supposedly, an editor rearranged one of Churchill’s sentences to avoid ending it in a preposition. The Prime Minister, very proud of his style, scribbled this note in reply: “This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.”

So, Grammar Police, we appreciate you being guardians of the English language. We need you! But, there is grace in Gracewriting. Perhaps your writer isn’t careless or clueless. Perhaps his or her grammar rebellion is about better storytelling and connecting with the reader.

— Jen

Tales from the Field

Tales from the Field

We were preparing for an interview with a government client for a large and very important project for our firm. Most of the members of our team had prepped with Graceworks previously, so the team was organized and focused on being Big and Bold. As always, we practiced our staging and discussed how to arrange the room to maximize our connection with the interview panel while still making our PowerPoint presentation part of their area of vision. Our ideal arrangement was to have the screen off to one side with room in front of the table so our team could stand directly in front of the panel. Our final practices using this arrangement were really strong.

We could not see the room before the actual interview, so when we arrived, we were dismayed to see a square conference table in the middle of the room, an overhead projector, and a fixed screen on one wall. If we left this arrangement, the interview team would have been separated from the panel by the massive table, the screen would have been at a difficult angle, and any sense of personal connection would have been difficult to develop. Luckily, we were already thinking as a team, and while I set up the computer and got the graphics loaded, the team brainstormed and quickly settled on how to rearrange the room to our advantage. It was no small amount of work moving all the tables and chairs, and when the interview panel entered the room, they were certainly surprised! The interview was great and we won the job!

Completely rearranging the room may not have won us the job, but it certainly contributed to our success. The effort provided the team a “mission” to complete before the interview, which helped dissipate any nervous energy and allowed us to present just as we had practiced. More importantly, the client witnessed first-hand how we worked as a team. In the interview debrief, they used four bullets to describe our presentation: “Energy, Articulate, Team Dynamic and Initiative (rearranging the room)”! Everything we did that day was Big and Bold and that was a key factor in our success!

Matthew Chalifoux, AIA
Architecture & Engineering

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