Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Taboo #1: starting a sentence with "and" or "but"

Writing coaches walk a fine line. We are a teacher, of sorts, but much of what we do is un-teach. We deprogram today's business writers of the rules they learned in school.

One of my favorite parts of that process is the things writing coaches call the “Three Taboos.” These may take you back to seventh or eighth-grade English composition classes, and they are slowing you down and hindering your message. Let's unmask them for the myths that they are.

Today I'm unmasking Taboo #1, which is:

You may not begin sentences with “and” or “but.”

Remember having that beat into your head? Well, shame on your eighth-grade English teacher. Why? Words like “and” and “but” and “so” are called conjunctions, and we learned them as connectives. And that’s that beauty of them. They connect thoughts.

They guide today’s busy reader through material, linking one main idea to the next main idea.

Lest you think conjunctions at the beginning of sentences aren’t very professional, take a gander at the front page of the Wall Street Journal. Any issue will do. Count how many times this long-lauded publication uses this proven technique for keeping readers hooked. Last time I checked, I found no less than seven times “and,” or “but,” or “so” linked two sentences on the Journal’s front page.

If it's a good practice for the Wall Street Journal, it's a good practice for you.

Like any communication tool, you need to start sentences with connectives sparingly. But use them. And watch your effectiveness as a writer soar.