Four Fake Rules of Proposal Writing

Writing a proposal is hard work. And getting all the details of spelling, grammar, and punctuation right can be even harder.

So why burden yourself with following rules of grammar … that aren’t even rules?

Here are five “fake rules of writing” that you hereby have permission to disregard. You may have heard these from your fifth-grade English teacher or read about them in an older resource like The Elements of Style. But they’re simply superstitious, often created by scholars who wanted the English language to mimic Latin because Latin was “better.”

Yeah, the rationale was that silly.

So, set yourself free and start making these five forbidden language tools your own. In case you need a reference to justify your choices, I’ve included guidance from Garner’s Modern English Usage, the definite guide on what’s acceptable in formal writing.

Go ahead … split infinitives. Ever since Captain James T. Kirk proclaimed the mission of the U.S.S. Enterprise as “…to boldly go where no man has gone before,” writers have been violating this rule. Splitting an infinitive occurs when you place a word between the two parts of a verb, as in to quickly run or to decisively reject. For years, we’ve been told that this is wrong. It’s not. According to Garner, “split infinitives, where they feel natural, are fully accepted.”

End sentences with a preposition. Another grammar myth is that you should never end sentences with prepositions—words that define the relationship between objects, such as over, under, before, or between. But why give that up? Sometimes a preposition is the best word to put in. And writing naturally … that’s what dreams are made of. (OK, notice what I did there? Those last three sentences all end with prepositions. And they’re all perfectly correct.) According to Garner, “perfectly natural-sounding sentences end with prepositions.”

Start sentences with conjunctions. The bias against starting sentences with coordinating conjunctions is a stubborn one. But it’s dead wrong. Opening with a conjunction such as and, or, or but creates a natural transition between two closely related sentences. And it’s done all the time in top-drawer writing. Here’s a sample, from a May 2017 article in the Harvard Business Review:

“Stress is a happiness killer. And life is just too short to be unhappy at work. But we hear this kind of thing all the time from leaders in industries as varied as financial services, education, pharmaceuticals, and health care.” 

Write one-sentence paragraphs. Once upon a time, some grammar teacher took the idea of a paragraph having an introduction, middle, and end too far—and wound up banning one-sentence paragraphs.

What a shame.

Because, when they’re used judiciously, one-sentence paragraphs add power and punch to your copy. They give readers a break between longer paragraphs and draw attention to critical concepts and key transitions. In his book, Garner places this grammar myth in a section called “superstitions.”

In sum, when it’s time to write your proposal, don’t worry about these bogus rules. Set yourself free. Tell your story plainly; use simple, straightforward language. And if anyone tells you to stop splitting your infinitives, give ‘em this one-sentence paragraph:

No.

This article was originally published in the APMP Greater Midwest Chapter newsletter.

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