Do you need to know the correct rules of grammar and punctuation to write great copy?
Some time ago, when I was just starting down the professional writing road, I read a great article about the role of grammar in sales copywriting. One sentence in particular stuck in my head, the gist of which was:
“When writing sales copy, it’s important to know when to ignore the usual rules of grammar…”
Never was a truer word said.
You don’t need to be a grammarian or hold an English degree to be a great copywriter. You just need to write words that sell – or that at least help in some way. Be it through educating, entertaining, informing, or persuading.
And sometimes, that means ignoring accepted best practice where grammar’s concerned. Like beginning a sentence with a conjunction. Or using an irregular comma to cause the reader to pause. Or using sentence fragments. Notice how many of those rules I just broke?
Often, great content marketing involves shredding the grammar rulebook altogether.
But you’d be well advised to at least read that rulebook first.
Why? If proper grammar’s not important in copywriting, what’s the point in learning it at all?
Readers will mentally question anything that looks “wrong”.
That includes words, sentences, punctuation, capitalisation – everything. And they’re right to do so.
Everything that goes on a website or sales brochure has to look as professional as possible.
That’s why you have to be the expert. Do you really want your audience knowing more about grammar than you?
Here’s some example feedback I’ve received from different clients:
“Do we need the ‘and’ at the start of this sentence? I was always taught at school that was a big no no.”
“There shouldn’t be a comma here.” (in reference to the controversial Oxford comma).
“This word shouldn’t be capitalised in a title. Please change it.”
In each of these cases, I was able to politely point out either that it was ok to break the rule (and why), or that the rule was subjective. There’s no way I could have done that if I hadn’t known which rules I had broken.
And often, you won’t have the luxury of looking the rules up before you reply. You may have to respond quickly over the phone while the client has their finger on the “publish” button.
Just because grammar and punctuation aren’t the most important parts of copywriting, doesn’t mean they’re not important.
An incorrectly-placed comma or apostrophe can change the meaning of sentence. Good luck selling your services if readers misconstrue a key sentence in your copy.
While it’s true that rules are made to be broken, it’s also true that rules exist for a reason. So don’t approach grammar or punctuation rules like a set of inflexible draconian commandments.
Instead, think about why these rules exist. This will help you understand when and why it’s ok to bend a rule. Want to capitalise every word in a title? It might look a little strange but that won’t stop you getting your point across – it might even help. But the last thing you need is to get it “wrong” without realising it – and then have your audience correct you.
So while you don’t need an English degree to be a copywriter, you absolutely need to know how to use correct grammar and punctuation.