If you’re like me, you sat through hours of grammar lessons as a kid and memorized a lot of rules for writing and speaking clearly. Gerunds, prepositions, and subject/verb placements, oh my!
I’ve been an avid devotee of the Grammar Gods for most of my life.
. . .I dedicated both a bachelor’s and master’s degree worth of education to reading, writing, and abiding by THE RULES.
. . .I walk around town with a mental red pen, circling, crossing out, and silently judging the mis-spellings and awkwardly phrased copy around me.
. . .I once mass emailed my colleagues with a cartoon detailing the difference between ‘flush out’ and ‘flesh out’ because I. Just. Couldn’t. Take. It. Anymore.
Yahhh, I’m that person.
I’m a geek. A geek with a deep reverence and respect for the laws of grammar. There’s no doubt that without grammar, we don’t receive and deliver messages very effectively. Without grammar, our communication suffers.
There are times when putting away those red pens will actually improve your copy, especially when you know what you’re doing. Because just like painting, cooking, music, and any expression of art, breaking the rules redefines the form. It forces those who engage with your words to experience something different.
And in marketing, grabbing the attention of your audience is everything.
So be daring.
Let’s break some rules.
Or but, because, so, or any other conjunction.
Why? When you want your reader to take note of an important example and stay engaged, this can help keep their attention. It drops the reader right into the middle of the action, and keeps them wanting more.
Sometimes, it makes more sense to capitalize just one word in a sentence, and maybe even a word that’s Not a proper noun (see what I did there? eh?). Or that’s in the middle of the sentence instead of the beginning.
Sometimes, you don’t have to use proper headline caps. Sentence caps in an H2 and H3 can read as more inviting and more personable, and it will make your reader think you’re talking only to her.
I would even go so far as to suggest that you sometimes opt to not capitalize any words at all, like in your top nav or your logo or your headers. This lends your site some modern design cred, and helps inform a brand voice that’s friendly, personable, and casual.
Have you ever picked up your phone first thing in the morning and clicked through a Facebook link to a New York Times article? Besides reminding yourself that you missed your optometry appointment last month because of COVID-19 and need new glasses desperately now that you are middle aged (Just me?), you’re also likely to lose interest fast and start scrolling, hoping to catch the gist through the headline and sub-headers.
Our eyes can’t handle all that text, especially on mobile, which now makes up over half of all web traffic.
Which is why a single sentence paragraph is a powerful thing.
It helps you get to the next sentence.
And the sentence after that one.
Ellipses keep you in the moment. They grab your attention and help you weave through the words more effortlessly. You know what words are important so you’re more likely to take note of them as they’re presented.
. . .They separate and emphasize ideas.
. . .They add a delightful pause
. . .They keep you in the moment, and help you illustrate your idea with examples.
Sometimes there really is one word that rules them all. One word that drives home that most crucial of points. That clarifies, intensifies, or elucidates.
In those moments, here are some options your 5th grade teacher will positively frown at:
Underline, bold, italicize, or all caps your word (or phrase)
Encase your word or phrase in a call to action button. Bonus point if it’s more creative than Learn more, Buy now, or Get started.
Make your word it’s own paragraph. It’s ok. It’s strong enough to stand on its own.
Stop short of pissing your reader off with fade ins, on-hover color changes, and other animations. But otherwise, the world is your oyster.
Start with clarity. Clarity trumps all else in your copy. It reigns supreme.
But once you’re confident that your site is clear and communicates your unique brand and vision to the right ideal audience, well, it’s time to play:
How can you break some rules so that your reader sees what you want her to see?
Does your reader stop, collaborate, and listen where you want her to?
Is your site mobile friendly, or are visitors greeted with giant blocks of text?
Of course, if you’d rather leave the rule-breaking to a copywriting pro so as not to risk upsetting the Grammar Gods, drop me a line. I’d love to help. Red pen not included.
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