I’m as big a fan of grammar as anyone. But when it comes to writing effective web copy, sometimes you gotta break a few eggs.
Why? Because you’re not writing a term paper. Your customers aren’t settling in by the fire to digest a literary masterpiece. They’re online — on your site — looking for answers to problems. And they need those answers fast.
But while you shouldn't burn the entire rulebook, you can relax some nitpicky standards that get in the way of clarity.
#1. It's OK To Start A Sentence With A Coordinating Conjunction.
Who said you can't start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction!? This crusty gem of misinformation is more schoolyard superstition than good advice.
Why? Because that's how people talk – from professors to pawnbrokers – and they've been talking that way since stone tablets. Plus, if your goal is to connect with readers, nothing says, "we're the same" faster than speaking the language of your audience.
S-dog gets it.
And if it's good enough for Willy Shakes, it's good enough for me.
#2. It's OK to Use Sentence Fragments.
Sentence fragments are common in advertising ("Got Milk?"), blogs and social media. They add style and punch. They're powerful, unexpected and definitely make a statement.
Fragments are especially effective in headlines and subheads.
Apple, owning the Power Fragment as usual.
A word of caution, though: while sentence fragments are useful for conveying tone and intensity, don't overdo it. Too many fragments can make your body copy look choppy at best, and careless at worst. Use judiciously for maximum effect.
#3. Short Sentences Are Good – Short Paragraphs Are Better.
Ideal sentence length: 10-20 words.
Ideal paragraph length: 4 lines max.
I know, I know. Your 10th-grade English teacher taught you that paragraphs need opening sentences, 3-5 supporting sentences, then a conclusion.
But you ain't Dickens. And chances are that 5 sentences will look really long on your website. Not good for impatient eyeballs.
Break your copy up into short, easily scanned chunks, no more than 4 lines long. Single-sentence paragraphs are not only fine, they're often preferred.
Rule of thumb: Short paragraphs get read, long paragraphs get skimmed, really long paragraphs get skipped.
OK, what if you ARE Mr. Dickens, and you blog about big, important things? Let's take a peek at an article from the professors at the New York Times:
Look at all those naked sentences! Mrs. Jennings would blush.
Some sentences are a touch on the long side... but the article is crystal clear and easy to read – which is especially important for a complex topic like this one.
And this is important! The value of your writing isn't based on how many words you cram into a sentence. Rather, it's in the quality of the content you're writing. (And how many people actually take the time to read it!)