When it's okay to break the rules.

thoushaltlong Recently, my six-year old daughter was looking over my shoulder as I was writing some ad copy.

She then said, “Hey Mom, you can’t start a sentence with and.”

“Well, Gina,” I said, rather at a loss for words, wondering how does she know this, “I’m writing Web copy. It’s okay to break the rules.”

My apologies to Gina’s first-grade teacher Mrs. Willis, I am one of those responsible for the decline of the English language. But as a copywriter, I’m not writing to please English teachers, I’m writing to strike an emotional chord with consumers in a hope to reach their wallets.

Occasionally, when a client reviews Web copy, they may question grammar usage. While overly formal, grammatically perfect copy may be a put off, overly casual language may look unprofessional. The idea is to find an appropriate balance.

In short, what’s the golden rule to remember? Consider your audience. When your audience is insurance brokers, the tone will be more formal than when hawking fish tacos.

Grammar rules that are okay to break:

1. Starting a sentence with “And” or “But”: Yes, it’s perfectly acceptable to start with conjunctions. Just remember that it is slightly more informal.

2. Contractions: Don’t. Aren’t. Isn’t. They’re all okay.

3. Sentence fragments: When you write like you speak, it’s okay to use sentence fragments for drama or emphasis. Really.

4. Slang: Go ahead and use slang, just be sure not to overdo it. Web copy for Jump Mobile, a pre-paid wireless service designed for mobile-dependent, urban youth, is informal yet very light on urban euphemisms. Nothing is worse than a client trying to appeal to a target market and looking like a poser instead.

5. One-sentence or one-word paragraphs: This is particularly applicable to writing for the Web. Readers are typically skimming a Web page looking for a particular piece of information. Huge blocks of text can be visually intimidating and chances are, your reader will go click, click, good-bye.

So there you go. Write. Relate. Have fun. Get results.