17 Hooey Writing Rules to Unlearn After Graduation

We have some good news for English class haters: some of the rules your teachers drilled into your brain are absolute hooey in the real world.

Who really says “an historic”? And personally, we love starting sentences with “but,” “and,” and “or.” Read on as we explore these and 15 other school writing rules that really don’t have a place in modern writing. And certainly not in your job.

English teachers, you have our apologies.

Writing Endlessly to Get Your Point Across

As school progresses, we go from small paragraphs to 50-page papers in college, but more doesn’t necessarily mean better. In fact, in the real world, it’s much better to get your point across in a concise way.

Sentences Can Begin with And, But, or Or

This classic English class rule has become obsolete, as people have ignored it so much that hardly anyone observes it anymore. It may not be completely professional, but it’s widely accepted and a great way to get your point across.

Waiting for a Prompt

In school, you’re handed assignment after assignment that spells out exactly how you should approach your writing, but in the real world, rarely do such prompts exist. Learn how to figure out what to write and find the confidence to decide what you want to put into it.

Long Paragraphs

Chances are, you were taught to construct paragraphs with topic sentences, supporting evidence, and small conclusions, but that’s just too long for the real world. You can better keep the attention of your audience by limiting paragraphs to three sentences at the most.

Editing Happens All at Once, at the End

No one’s saying you can’t give your work a once-over before sending it along, but if you’ve got a lot of ground to cover, it might make sense for you to edit as you go, rather than all at once. Fixing problems and having clean copy to work from can make it easier to move on and write the rest of your work.

Not Ending Sentences with a Preposition

Sometimes, you just have to end your sentence in a preposition. A good rule to remember is if you can remove a preposition and the sentence still makes sense, you need to cut it out. If not, keep it. For example: “What did you step in?” needs “in”, but “Where is it at?” could stand to lose the “at.”

Avoiding Incomplete Sentences

Sentences do not have to be complete. They don’t even always have to have a subject, verb, and object. Quick, punchy sentences can help add drama and make a point when used sparingly. Journalists violate this one all the time.

Big Words Are Better

In school, there’s a good chance you really wanted to show off your vocabulary, using the biggest words you could find. But in the real world, no one’s impressed. Simply use the best word for the job, and keep it natural. Big words that don’t fit naturally can make it sound like you’re overdoing it.

An Historic Writing Rule

The British came up with the rule to say “an historic,” instead of “a historic.” This is due to the Cockney accent that often drops the “h” sound and makes “historic” sound like “istoric,” a word that starts with a vowel and should be preceded by “an.” But in America, we say “historic,” and it sounds incredibly pretentious to put “an” in front of it.

Avoiding First Person

Schoolteachers are quick to point out that “I” has little to no use in formal writing. Without this rule, commonly self-obsessed teen writers with plenty of personal opinions are likely to use an endless string of “I”s. But in real life, “I” does have its place. You shouldn’t make yourself the subject of every sentence, but allowing yourself to come through in your style is occasionally acceptable.

Slang Is a Big No-no

Although traditional grammar rules frown upon slang, everyone uses it. Informal communication is usually a perfectly fine place to use (tasteful) slang, but be careful to leave it out of more formal or official pieces.

Don’t Use Adverbs

Adverbs have been so misused over the years that most grammar professionals encourage writers to avoid them altogether. But adverbs do have a place in writing, when used properly.

Alright Is Not All Right

This alternate spelling has been shunned in the grammar world, but alright is perfectly fine. Although the two different spellings may have different meanings to some people, there’s nothing wrong with using the word itself.

Sentences Can’t Start with “However”

Despite what your ninth grade teacher may have told you, it’s perfectly fine to start your sentences with however, as long as you’re using it properly. If it’s followed by a comma, and meant to stand for “nevertheless,” however is acceptable at the beginning of a sentence.

Possessive Words Ending in an “s” Don’t Need Another “S”

This rule is somewhat controversial, as there are two style manuals that have opposite views. The Chicago manual requires an apostrophe and an s, but AP leaves off the extra s. The style that you follow can be modified to your personal preference or that of your business.

Avoid Contractions

In formal writing, contractions may seem out of place, but how often in normal conversation do you pass them up? When writing emails, blog posts, and other informal correspondence, contractions are perfectly fine to use.

Avoid Profanity

Another rule that just feels awkward in the real world, leaving out profanity can be a fun rule to break. Believe it or not, profanity does have its place in real world writing. Although professional publications are best left without cuss words, you’d never say “the excrement hit the fan.”


For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at OnlineCollege.org!

About the Author: Melissa Venable, PhD is an Education Writer for OnlineCollege.org. Melissa’s background includes work in higher education – private, public, and for-profit – as an instructional designer and curriculum developer. Melissa is also an experienced instructor, academic advisor, and career counselor working with both undergraduate and graduate students. She is actively involved in research related to online education and the support of online students. Her work has been published in The Career Development Quarterly, TechTrends, the Journal of Computing in Higher Education, and the Journal of Online Learning and Teaching. Follow Melissa on Twitter!

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