There was a too-long period in my life during which I would become incensed over typos, misspellings, poor grammar, and bad writing style in content. I interpreted them as signs that those responsible were reckless ne’er-do-wells whose efforts at communicating were unworthy of my attention: If they don’t care about their presentation, why should I care about their message?

But I’m proud to say that after 20 years of being a copywriter (and of repeatedly committing every transgression I listed above), my reaction to such things has mellowed significantly. In full disclosure, I remain a stickler for correct spelling; there’s not a lot to argue about there. And even though typos happen to everyone, there’s no safe excuse for them. Over time, though, I’ve learned that grammar and style are much grayer areas, and demand a more flexible attitude in content development.

Sure, there are “rules” to be followed. But getting mired in them often leads to copy that just feels wrong. It can come across as too formal, or too highfalutin, or too out of touch. While there is truth to the idea that you have to know the rules before you can break them, I believe you’re better served by knowing your audience. Write the way they talk, use language they use, prove that you understand them and their needs. Write for clarity of message, not for adhesion to rules most people don’t know or understand.

Here’s a tip: If you find yourself worrying about correct grammar and style while you’re writing, the best thing to do is stop. Take a breath. Ignore that rule you’re trying to obey, and rewrite your thought the way you’d say it if you were explaining it to your reader face to face. It may need a little polishing, but I bet you’ll find that it more clearly represents what you wanted to say in the first place.

Your own good sense and your knowledge of your audience will help you write in a way that works for you and for your readers. Of course, it’s incumbent on you to spell correctly and eliminate typos. Still, inevitably, someone will criticize you for breaking a rule (years ago, it might have been me). But if your audience understands your message, feel free to ignore that person and call it a triumph of communication over obfuscation. As someone* once said when told not to end a sentence with a preposition: That is nonsense up with which I will not put.

*Most often attributed, though dubiously, to Winston Churchill. Here’s a rather interesting investigation of the origin story.