Writing Style – Starting a Sentence With “But”

Tammy’s question: “I’ve always thought that it is not appropriate to start a sentence using ‘but.’ What are your thoughts?”

BizWritingTip response: Starting a sentence with but is not a grammar error. It is a style issue.

In the academic world, the writing style is formal. Therefore, starting a sentence with but would be inappropriate as it comes across as casual. (Note: Over the past year, I have been hearing that some elementary school teachers are now accepting and and but as sentence starters.)

In the business world, effective writers use two different styles or tones: a formal one for reports and a more conversational one for emails. If I was writing a report, I would use however or on the other hand. If I was writing an email, I would use but.

Most of today’s readers tend to pay more attention to messages written with a conversational tone.

Examples
I am sorry to hear you are leaving the department. However, I know you will enjoy your new position. (Formal)
I am sorry to hear you’re leaving the department. But I know you will enjoy your new position. (More conversational)

Another Option: This sentence could also be rewritten as a compound sentence.
I am sorry you’re leaving the department, but I know you will enjoy your new position. The issue here is that the longer the sentence, the more likely it is that readers will skim the first part. The “I am sorry” is de-emphasized.

If I wanted to sound warm and friendly and to have my readers absorb both points, I would write short sentences and connect them with “but.”

Example
I realize this information will upset some readers. But business writing requires us to be persuasive and to find ways to increase our reader’s “buy in” to the message.

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