Should You Start a Sentence with And or But?

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My sixth grade English teacher would have said “no.”

If you’re a sixth grade English teacher, you probably need to stick to the rules when you write. After all, you don’t want your students picking up any bad habits.

If you’re a blogger or a marketer, however, you have a bit more leeway.

How Should You Write for the Web?

As you may know if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, I’m a big fan of conversational writing when it comes to writing blog posts and marketing materials. If you’re writing for the web, I’m also in favor of using a highly scannable style.

This isn’t just a matter of personal taste or opinion, though. A scannable conversational style has been shown to be more effective time and time again. Check out this post from Connie Sung Moyle on the VerticalResponse Marketing Blog, Writing for the Web (It’s Not What You Learned in English Class).

Unfortunately, there are still some writers who don’t understand this principle. I often see blog posts and marketing materials that look like they were written for my former English teacher and not for the web.

The New Writing Rules: What’s Okay and What’s Not

Of course, just because you’re using a conversational style doesn’t mean you can throw all of the grammar rules you learned out the door.

If you write for the web, here’s a quick list of writing techniques you’ll want to add to your own writing:

  • Conversational tone. Yes, this means that it’s okay to start a sentence with And or But once in a while. It’s also okay to use an occasional sentence fragment because that’s how people talk.
  • Formatted text.When you’re writing for an online audience, make full use of bulleted lists, headlines, and other text formatting features to draw the eye to your text.
  • Images. Images are another device to attract the reader’s attention. Make sure that most of your posts have at least one.
  • Short sentences and paragraphs. Your web reader doesn’t have time (and won’t) plow through huge chunks of unformatted text. Keep it snappy.

However, your sixth grade English teacher was right about a few things. The following mistakes should never have a place in your web writing:

  • Misinformation. Just like your teacher taught you–do your homework.
  • Spelling errors. There are no excuses any more. Use your spell checker.
  • Misspelled names. Not only is this wrong, it’s embarrassing.
  • Text message lingo. Unless you’re actually writing for a cell phone, use a style that mimics the way people actually talk.

Your Turn

How strict of a grammarian are you when you blog? Do you agree with my points about conversational style? What points would you add?

Comments

  1. says

    Misspelled names can put your credibility into question, especially if you misspell names in more than one post. It will lead readers to think that you don’t do fact-checking before writing and publishing posts.

  2. says

    Laura,

    To build upon your suggestion of short sentences and paragraphs, a corollary is lots of white space.

    One-sentence paragraphs and even one-phrase or one-word paragraphs improve readability because they create white space.

    Short paragraphs crowded together don’t have as much impact as they would with more spacing between them and larger margins.

    So it’s a layout thing as much as a language thing.

    -Diana

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