It’s better to be clear than correct

A fountain pen writing with black ink on ruled notebook paper.

This post is part of a writing advice series. Writing clearly is one of the most important — and overlooked — skills.

English has rules. A lot of rules. Some of them make no sense if you grew up with another language. Some of them make no sense if you grew up with English. Even though technically correct is the best kind of correct, it’s better to be understood than to strictly follow grammatical rules.

This does not mean you can be factually incorrect in what you write. It’s best to have all of your facts right, even though some facts may be less important than others. What we’re talking about here is strict adherence to the grammar you were taught in school. Your prose is not code; it will not fail because you forgot a semicolon.

A great example is when you’re including URL in a sentence. Often, you can make it a hyperlink. Problem solved! But if it’s a plain text format, then what do you do? If you put the period at the end, you end up with something like “Read more at” That could result in people trying to include the period in the URL, which will not work. If the URL is at the end of the line, just leave the period off! If there’s another sentence following, you can put a space before the period or add several extra spaces.

Of course, you might choose to add a reference instead and include the link at the bottom of the text. This is probably easier to read in most cases. When you choose to break a rule, that is a flag to prompt you to review what you wrote. Can you rewrite it to make it more clear?

Ultimately, the choice to break a rule is just that: a choice. Grammar rules are not laws, they’re conventions. Don’t let them get in the way of being understood. Does ending a sentence with a preposition sound better than rewording it to avoid the bane of your sophomore English teacher? Then find a good preposition to end your sentence with! A stiff, overly-formal writing style can put off your reader. Don’t let the means of your message get in the way of the meaning.

This post’s featured photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash.

Ben formerly led open source messaging at Docker and was the Fedora Program Manager. He is the author of Program Management for Open Source Projects. Ben is an Open Organization Ambassador and frequent conference speaker. His personal website is Funnel Fiasco.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.