You may have heard this cliche in your educational experience – “You have to know the rules before you can break them.” While I normally eschew cliches, this one does apply to writing. If you want to write well for academic and corporate environments, you have to follow the rules, without fail.
Here are three basic areas where the rules are vital:
Grammar/Mechanics/Punctuation – we all hate it (okay, I don’t hate, but I know I’m freakish in this way). You have to know how to write correctly for the audience to whom you are writing. This means, you need to know how to use commas, how to use underlining and italics, and how to change word forms to make them work together correctly. If you don’t know how to use the tools of your language properly for the audience and purpose you are addressing, you can look stupid or uninformed, even though you may be brilliant and very knowledgeable. If you need to brush up on grammar/mechanics/punctuation, the Online Writing Lab at Purdue has some great resources.
Style Guidelines in the Workplace – More and more, workplaces have style guides that help their employees maintain consistency in things like font, heading style, and capitalization techniques (i.e. College is always capitalized). It’s vital that the employees of the organization consult the style guide when writing any documents since this guide helps create uniformity between documents and, thus, enhance the company’s brand. This link from Scriptorium will give you some basic style guide parameters.
Grant Writing – When seeking funds from corporations, government agencies, or nonprofit organizations, it is crucial that a writer follow the grant guidelines perfectly. For example, in a grant proposal I just wrote, the granting agency had very specific word counts for each section of the application. If I was not careful to follow those counts, I could run the risk of disqualifying our organization from the grant because of a technicality. Think about grant guidelines as brickwalls that you must stay within. You don’t want the granting agency to have any reason to eliminate your application from the pile they receive, and believe me, as with resumes, people are always looking for a reason to cull down the pile. Check out this list of granting writing guidelines for non-profits to get some sense of the kinds of limitations a grant application might require.
Remember, even if you’re rebellious, hyper-creative, and “out of the box,” there are great reasons to follow guidelines when writing. They will help you reach your ultimate goes, and just like a formal structure for a poem can enhance the power of your ideas, the rules in writing can help sharpen and perfect your own ideas.