Writing Style – Grammar or Style

A BizWritingTip reader wrote: I often see sentences that end in a preposition or hear commercials that do the same. Am I out of touch? Is this acceptable? Not when I went to school.

It makes me wonder just how much attention is given to the correct use of the English language in both written and spoken terms. As a life-long professional, I often wonder about the quality of current education.

BizWritingTip response: Ah, Mary, you raise so many issues. (I will not get into the spoken area as that is not my area of expertise.) With writing, there are two issues: grammar and style. Grammar relates to the rules surrounding the form and arrangement of words in a language. Style relates to how a message is conveyed. Grammar rules – although they continually change because of social customs and technology – remain the same for all forms of a language.

Style, however, varies according to the type of writing. Academic writing is more formal and relies heavily on nouns. The readers of academic documents usually have more time to read a document and to think about its meaning. The readers of business documents are usually skimmers and require clear, concise documents that are persuasive. Therefore, business writing is less formal and makes more use of verbs and active voice sentences.

Think of writing in terms of clothing. We must all wear clothes; yet the style must change for the event. The dress for academic writing and for formal business reports is tuxedos and ball gowns. Letters are normally business suits; emails are usually business casual (golf shirts), and text messaging would be a bathing suit. There is nothing wrong with each style of clothing. But you must wear the right style to the function. The same holds true then for writing styles.

As for whether you can end a sentence in a preposition, this is a style issue – not a grammar one. This was handled in a previous BizWritingTip on Preposition Placement.

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