The last Style Corner blog covered a topic at the grammar end of the spectrum, the use of commas to divide two full sentences (or comma splice).
This time we go to the other end of the spectrum, to a topic that is not grammar, not really usage and not really even style. Yet it still still exercises an absurd, unwarranted degree of influence on people’s writing habits; even though it is no more than a nineteenth century myth.
Worse, it causes anxiety and uncertainty. Some style guides still frown on it, and some writers, consciously or unconsciously, avoid it; thankfully no longer The Economist, which now ‘allows’ it.
Many brave grammarian and journalist knights have tried to slay the split infinitive dragon, and this blog represents my own small sword stroke towards that end.
In the first blog in this series I talked about the narrative definition of story – the story as a tale – with a beginning, a middle and an end, a plot.
I talked about the idea of seven universal plots, reinforcing the idea that stories are able to connect us because they are so familiar: there are, after all, so few of them.
This time I want to get more specific about the idea of the story in business writing and what it means. This goes more to the journalistic definition of story. A hard-nosed, punchy, shorthand, news item which conveys something that has happened or should happen.
Story in this sense means the hook, the core. The heart of what you want to say, distilled to a singular (and interesting) essence, with no extraneous detail, colour or frills.
It hooks the reader in and makes them want to read more. It’s the core essence of what you want to say.
Storytelling in business is fashionable and popular, including in financial services.
There is a large body of academic literature on the topic, specialist consultancies, training courses, websites and blogs all drawing our attention to the power of narrative.
Business storytelling has great appeal to experts, service providers and customers alike. Using stories helps make business more interesting. It helps us engage with subject matter that otherwise might be technical and dull.
Stories are a refreshing alternative to the jargonized consulting-speak that is widespread in business writing, especially financial services.
Stories are compelling. People love them. This blog explains why, without going into detail about the psychology, science or typology of storytelling, which is a whole topic on its own.
As the name suggests it will focus mainly on style and usage and not on grammar; based on the idea that most contentious topics in business writing, and writing more generally, are not actually to do with grammar.
There are of course rules of grammar in English but not as many as people think; and to native English speakers and writers they are just that: native, innate, internal. To non-native English speakers and writers they have to be learned, yes, but the playing field is more level than you might imagine.
Native English speakers, especially those of a certain age and educational cohort, are just as likely as non-native speakers to be confused about what is ‘correct’ or not; and about whether the ‘correctness’ of something is a grammatical matter or a matter of usage and style.
Style Corner is intended to clarify some of the uncertainty.
Exceptionally, though, the first topic is actually about a grammatical matter: the comma splice.
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