As I sit down each day to do my work, the vast majority of which involves writing (articles, web site content, tweets and blog posts), I can’t help but think about the writing rules drilled into me by past English teachers. In most cases, their advice is still very pertinent, and I write better by adhering to it. But there are a few rules that would prove detrimental to my online work if I continued to follow them.
I was taught how to write in a world in which print media still dominated the written word. Much has changed since those pre-Internet days, the practice of writing not least of all. As a result, some things that were once considered big no-nos are now standard practice. Here’s a few old chestnuts you should think about tossing out as you transition to online writing. You may even take joy in doing so, if you’re the rebellious sort.
1. Write What You Know
Even when I was a much younger writer, and a big fan of science fiction writing, I found this rule to be rather limiting. The fact is, now that I’m doing various kinds of online writing that differ greatly depending on the contract, it’s become downright anti-productive.
A much better and more applicable rule for today’s provider of online content is know what you write, as quickly and efficiently as you can. That means doing research to gain a sense of familiarity with your topic, and to quickly find out what kind of tone and tenor is acceptable for the genre. Honestly, your goal as a writer is to be able to fool an expert into thinking the content was created by someone with at least a comfortable grasp and lengthy history with the subject at hand.
2. Don’t Use Contractions
Contractions like “I’ll” and “They’re” may have been completely against all good sense back when you were writing essays for school, but they’re completely acceptable in almost all online writing (see what I just did there?). In fact, when I work as an editor for blog content, I often insert contractions where they belong.
What many people don’t realize when they make the jump from print to online writing is that web content has as much do with spoken English as it does written English, in terms of what’s considered acceptable (see, I did it again!). Contractions more accurately emulate a conversational tone, which is something many blogs, marketing departments and community builders are aiming for with their online publications. If you do not use contractions in your writing, it is liable to sound awkward and stilted to a seasoned Internet media consumer.
3. Revise, Revise, Revise
Revision is terrific, don’t get me wrong (I can see editors all over the world glaring at me menacingly). It’s terrific and necessary, when you have the luxury of time. The fact is, with a lot of Internet writing, you just don’t have that luxury. Taking time to meticulously revise a piece could result in something that was current becoming old news, especially now that Twitter delivers news in real time.
Read over what you’ve written, always, but try to practice producing publication-quality prose on a first draft basis. Part of that means editing as you go, but part of it is just writing with a high degree of frequency. It helps if you can identify your common errors in advance, because that way you’ll be attuned to those areas as you write them, which should make you more likely to catch a mistake as it happens.
Those are the three big rules I break every day. And every time I do, I can still hear my tenth grade English teacher uncapping his red Sharpie. Do what you will, Mr. Marchand, but the Internet demands an entirely new set of rules, and she’s the only English teacher I have to please now.
What writing “rules” do you break regularly?