Forget everything you were taught at school in your English lessons; writing for the web is uniquely different and if you want to engage your website visitors, resist the temptation to stick rigidly to these six popular English language myths.
I looked through a box my mum had left up recently with all my old childhood memories, and I found a funny school report.
“Paul’s basic problem is that he has too much to say, even when it’s none of his business.”
To be fair, they were right.
Small Paul was a wee chatterbox, especially during subjects like Maths and Science.
But it made me think about English.
In my high school, we weren’t expected to do well.
As a result, the best mark I could get in GCSE English was a Grade C at the foundation level.
It wasn’t based on our natural ability or flair but on what everyone else thought we were capable of.
And it got me thinking.
The stuff I did learn for English, ironically, a lot of it was wrong.
As a recovering member of the Grammar Gestapo, I learned some things that turned out to be wrong, most of which you were probably taught too.
Reality: There’s no such thing as ‘rules’ in English; instead, it’s stylistic preferences.
And in fact, you can use all three at the start of a sentence, and people won’t judge you harshly.
The truth is all three words help make your digital content flow better.
We like reading content the same way we talk.
As a result, the use of ‘and’, ‘but’ and ‘because’ is a handy way of condensing content and linking sentences.
Reality: Hmmm, that one doesn’t quite stack up, either.
If spelling isn’t your strong suit or you’re prone to a typo now and then (we’re all guilty!), then use a spell-checker like Grammarly.
The Washington Post summarised this rule best: “The ‘i before e, except after c’ rule is a giant lie.”
Reality: Ending a sentence with prepositions like ‘of’, ‘to’ and ‘with’ is perfectly acceptable.
Everyday examples that are correct include:
Sticking rigidly to the rules of the English language isn’t feasible.
After all, how many of your website visitors will be annoyed at your end-of-sentence preposition?
Reality: Who really speaks like this?
Imagine you were on the phone with a family member, and they chatted with you without contractions:
“Oh, do not talk to me about this weather. I cannot cope with this heat. I have found it difficult because it is not comfortable sweating all day.”
Contractions are perfectly fine to use for all of your digital content.
Remember, when writing for the web, write how you speak.
Your English teacher’s intentions were fine; they wanted you to build up your vocabulary.
But realistically, why would anyone want to use big words when short words do the job?
Big words might give you inner satisfaction, but what if your customers don’t understand the big word?
What if, by flexing your impressive vocabulary, you actually confuse customers?
And what if, with your website full of nice big fancy words, you end up losing those customers to your competitors?
Remember, the patience of website visitors is short; you need to tell them what they want to know quickly.
Equally important, writing for the web involves communicating your ideas to potential customers.
Jargon-free, simple and concise is always the best decision.
Leave those fancy words for your English teacher.
In short, the use of complicated words is an exercise in floccinaucinihilipilification (ha!😉).
Do you remember your English teacher gave you homework?
Usually, it went something like this:
“Write an essay in 500 words or more about…”
Inevitably, you got to 300 words and struggled for inspiration.
And that’s when your filler phrases, cliches and all the rest came into play instead of getting to the point.
What you could write: “Shakespeare continues to have a significant impact on the English language.” (11 words).
What you actually write to beef up your word count: “William Shakespeare has a hugely significant impact on the English language, from when he initially wrote right through to the modern day.” (22 words).
There’s no point in writing more than what’s necessary.
Mark Twain once said, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”
Writing for the web means writing for humans first, algorithms second, and English teachers last.
And while your English teacher was relaying what they were taught, a lot of it doesn’t work when you write online content.
Check out any advert between Coronation Street, and every single one of them will use English the same way it’s spoken.
If you need help with engaging web copy, my NI web content writing service will turn browsers into buyers.
All you have to do is tell me what you need, and I’ll take care of the rest.
If you want to know more about writing for the web, check out my previous blog posts about digital marketing and blog content basics.