Common Writing Advice that Can Remain Ignored
Depending on how the writing advice is motivated, it may be more or less valuable in a specific case. Myths about good writing usually begin with good intentions, but not always are they helpful. This article will help you achieve good results in writing by explaining the reasons behind common writing myths.
Types of writing advice
Here are three main types of writing advice:
The least forceful and dogmatic kind of writing advice is descriptive advice. It simply describes how language is used and leaves the writers to craft their own writing practice.
Prescriptive advice argues, usually forcefully, that a specific writing choice is appropriate while another one is not. The motivation is to tell beginning writers the best way to write instead of showing them all the various options.
Provisional writing advice is typically given in the early education of writers and involves rules that help writers start the learning process. A significant part of what you have learned about writing at the beginning of your practice will remain helpful for a long time, while some of it will hold you back. You should be able to question the rules you are taught at the beginning of your practice because some of them were to serve as only temporary ones that you can now cast away.
Common Writing Myths
Below, you will find a list of common writing advice that can remain disregarded.
You Should Not Split Infinitives
An infinitive is an uninflected form of a verb that is easy to spot. To write, to laugh, to sleep — these are all examples of infinitives, and you can certainly find them in your writing. Typically an infinitive verb is preceded by "to."
Splitting infinitive means putting a word or phrase between "to" and the verb in order to modify that verb. The myth of this mistake gains a foothold in mid-nineteenth-century England's insistence that English should emulate Latin, where infinitives are a single word and cannot be split.
However, there are some cases where you should split infinitive to ensure the clearest phrasing. Here is an example. "The committee decided to carefully assess each participant's performance." Here, the infinitive to assess is split by the adverb carefully. If we change the sentence to "The committee decided carefully to assess each participant's performance," the word carefully seems to address decided rather than to to assess. At the same time, if we change it to "The committee decided to assess carefully each participant's performance," it sounds both awkward and a bit unclear. In this case, the best way to convey the sentence's meaning is to split the infinitive.
|The committee decided to carefully assess each participant's performance.||The committee decided to assess carefully each participant's performance. |
The committee decided carefully to assess each participant's performance.
You Should Not Start a Sentence with a Coordinating Conjunction
This is a provisional rule meant to help writers who are at the start of their practice understand the differences between oral and written communication.
While in speech, we often begin sentences with conjunctions, especially "and" and "but," in text, such sentences can lead to repetitive and sloppy writing. To combat this stylistic problem, people who teach beginning writers sometimes recommend avoiding the use of any coordinating conjunction at the beginning of a sentence.
However, multiple known writers start their sentences with coordinating conjunctions sometimes. While it can add desirable emphasis to a sentence, you still should be careful when doing so.
You Should Not Start a Sentence with 'Because'
This one is a provisional rule, too. It seems to be a result of some teacher's frustration with sentence fragments. Here is an example of a sentence fragment: "Because I wanted to eat."
This is a sentence fragment due to the word because being subordinating conjunction. Subordinating conjunction makes the clause that is unable to stand on its own as a sentence. To make it obvious, although normally "I wanted to eat" can stand alone as a sentence (it is an independent clause), the addition of "because" excludes this possibility (transforming it to a dependent clause).
However, no error is necessarily involved in starting your sentence with "because." This is acceptable if the because clause is followed by another clause that completes the sentence. For example, "Because I wanted to eat, I went to the restaurant."
|Because I wanted to eat, I went to the restaurant.||Because I wanted to eat.|
You Should Not End a Sentence with a Preposition
Prepositions (e.g. about, of, as, to) show the relationships between things. The advice to avoid ending sentences with prepositions is prescriptive advice. It is rather a dogma than careful consideration.
Actually, the known writers, including Jane Austen, Stephen Leacock, and many others — sometimes end sentences this way.
You should consider that a sentence emphasis usually falls at the end of a sentence. Therefore, you should think carefully if the preposition is usefully emphasized. If it is not, consider rephrasing the sentence.
Consider the following: "I want to know from where he came," vs "I want to know where he came from." The rhythm of this rephrasing puts the emphasis on the preposition rather than on the action, and for this reason, it might be preferable.
|Right✔️||Also right, more preferable✔️|
|I want to know from where he came.||I want to know where he came from.|
You Should Place Paragraph Transitions at the End of the Paragraph
This is a provisional rule. Actually, paragraph transitions are often best placed at the beginning of the paragraphs. This is because a single paragraph should convey a specific idea and the transitions usually appear in/as sentences that emphasize new ideas.
To make it clearer, a transition typically mentions an old idea but concentrates on a new one, which is often the focus of the new paragraph. Since the new paragraph shares the emphasis of the transition, it is often the best choice to place the transition at the beginning of the paragraph.