“…of no importance as long as we make our meaning plain”
You could achieve grammatical perfection and produce a piece of work of dubious clarity. Churchill concurred with Orwell. Commenting on a cabinet paper in which the author had tortuously avoided ending a sentence with a preposition, he noted in the margin: “This is the kind of language up with which I will not put”. Quite.
If it comes to a fight to a meaningful death, clarity should trounce grammar. Yet good grammar does matter. The very best writers learn the rules before breaking them. So it’s unwise to get too hung up on the occasional split infinitive (there’s one in the above paragraph) or missing verb.
Sadly, poor writing results more from ignorance than a flagrant abuse of the rules of grammar. Here are some simple tips, plainly written and without reference to past participles, nonstative verbs or conditional tenses.
- Short words are better than long ones
- The active voice is better than the passive
- Every word counts. If a word can be removed, do it
- English words are preferable
- Short sentences are more easily understood than long ones
- Avoid slang, jargon, cliché
- Punctuation should be perfect
- But creative writing (which includes business writing) is not an exercise in English literature
Grammar can be horribly complex. Pedants insist that sentences should include a subject (the noun) and a predicate (the verb) and an assortment of other words which constitute a complete thought. But try using concise clauses — which aren’t proper sentences — for impact and rhythm. (“Our staff won the top award. And no wonder.”) It may not be grammatically perfect, but it is perfectly understandable.
Orwell and Churchill would agree.