Formal Writing Rules I’ve Had to Unlearn
As a recent college graduate I have learned the specific art of writing an academic paper. Now that I have graduated there are some rules I need to learn how to break. I know I can’t forget my spelling and grammar rules no matter what I write. There are a few rules about my style that needed to change, though. Here are the top 10 rules that I have had to forget.
1. Big Words. In academic papers using larger words was encouraged. They were a way to show off my knowledge. This is not the case in more informal writing. Now, I need to use the clearest words I can.
2. Long Papers. Instead of writing pages on end to reach my point I need to be more concise. When I search the Internet I am looking for quick answers to my questions. I skip past articles that don’t answer my questions in the first few sentences.
3. Long Paragraphs. There was a time where I was quite proud of my well-constructed, page-long paragraphs. Now I realize that no one wants to wade through that much support for my points. Now I just get to my point and then I move on.
4. “You” and “I”. Formal papers never use the words you or I because it is a direct connection between the reader and author. Informal writing stresses that connection to the audience. You can’t create a connection to someone if you don’t talk to them directly.
5. Contractions. This is a rule that I am grateful to break. Writing out contractions has always sounded too stiff to me. Contractions are everywhere in speech and now my writing can reflect that. Related to contractions I am now free to use shortened forms of words instead of feeling forced to write out the entire word.
6. Passive Voice. This is another rule that I am grateful to break; I have no reason to use the passive voice. The passive voice only creates overly complicated sentences which increases the likelihood of misunderstandings.
7. Conjunctions. The classic English rule that a sentence can’t start with a conjunction (and, but, or) is largely ignored in most writing. It is still seen as slightly unprofessional, but it is a great way to get a point across.
8. Slang. In formal writing it was frowned upon to use clichés or slang terms. Now, that I have graduated I am free to use whichever terms will help me get my point across.
9. Emotion. I am no longer restricted by having to remain objective. I am allowed to connect with my readers and show my empathy and emotions for them.
10. Headings. In writing my school papers I often wrote headlines and sub-headlines to keep myself organized by they rarely made it into my final draft. Now that I’m writing online I use headlines frequently to emphasize my main points. Headlines and sub-headlines tell my readers the main points I’m trying to get across.
Writing for teachers and professors has helped me hone my writing skills. Most importantly I have developed good spelling and grammar skills. There are still some elements of my style that I have had to throw out the window if I expect people to read my writing online. What parts of formal writing have you forgotten, or ignored, now that you’re writing for the web?