Bad grammar is not always so bad.
There are different kinds of grammar. There’s good grammar, there’s intentionally bad grammar (which sometimes has its place – especially in copywriting), and there’s ugly grammar – that’s just plain bad grammar that shows ignorance and casts a bad light on the writer.
When you know what you’re doing, you can break the rules judiciously. But when you don’t know what you’re doing, and create a grammatical jumble, it can turn ugly very quickly. And it can kill a sale before you even get the chance to make your case.
Let’s take a practical approach to grammatical rules, and we won’t use any strange words. Promise.
Do you see what I just did there? “Promise” isn’t really a sentence. It’s a sentence fragment. Technically it’s bad grammar, but it’s acceptable in casual writing and it doesn’t make me look like I’m illiterate. It looks intentional.
Depending on the context, slipping in a little intentional bad grammar can actually be a good thing. Abbreviated sentences can be very powerful. They hold more emotion, and they carry the reader along.
When Does the Intentionally Bad Turn Ugly?
Here’s something that a colleague sent me recently. I think it makes the point very well.
As my friend explained, “This recently landed on my Facebook page from a friend of a friend:”
Hello friends and Family.
Being in school has been a real challenge finacially so I have become a Acme Proteing Powder distributor. Yes I know your shock! Paul? The kid who lives on burgers big gulps?
My friend went on to say, “When I see something like the above, I get so caught up in the mistakes that I completely miss what the person is even trying to sell. Here is what I see.
“A little stream-of-consciousness to show how this message is processed: Wow, being in school must be a real challenge all the way around if he has that poor a grasp of grammar and communication. Who is this and what was it about again? Oh, he thinks Acme Protein Powder is great and wants to sell me some.
“Hmm …. He doesn’t appear to be very professional, so how can I trust his judgment on products? Even if he struggles with grammar, he could get help from an expert. Or maybe he is just too lazy to take the time to construct decent sentences and proof his writing. If he is too lazy to do that, how do I know he will take my order correctly? Or not bill my card for another person’s order? Will he still be in business if I have a problem with the product in a month? Probably not. Dismissed.”
Notice how in the above comments from my friend, the last two sentences are actually sentence fragments. But they don’t look bad. They convey the emotion of someone who is unimpressed and uninterested. Again, the key here is that the sentence fragments don’t look like a careless mistake. They look intentional.
Get the Right Voice
All writing has a “voice.” It sounds like the person who wrote it. It can be formal, casual, amusing, serious, or careless.
Many copywriters spend years cultivating a conversational, intimate style that makes readers feel as though they are having a one-on-one discussion with the person signing the letter. This often requires breaking a few rules of grammar, but it feels right to the reader.
It’s never a good idea to look careless, ignorant, and unintentional. That’s just plain ugly, and it will reflect badly on you and your business.
Why? Cuz no one wants to work with someone who doesn’t seem to care.
By the way, did you see what I just did there . . .?
So, this week’s tip is to avoid ugly grammar – but also not to get hung up on “perfect” grammar, either!