Oldies can be goodies: one of the wonderful things about the IEEE PCS Newsletters Archive is that much of its advice to writers remains valid.
Philip Yaffe’s “Don’t Let Good Grammar Spoil Good Writing,” from the April 2009 IEEE PCS Newsletter, tells us why breaking grammar rules can create positive results, depending on context and purpose. For example, Yaffe argues against the rule: if we start a sentence in the past tense, we need to stay in the past (same) tense. Following this rule, we’d write:
The United Nations this morning reported that malaria was still a worldwide health menace.
Yet the whole point of this sentence is to indicate that malaria presents a current threat to our health, and therefore, would be more correctly written with “reported” and “is” – two different tenses. His article focuses on rules around past versus present tense, bullet points, and paragraphing, but provides a good reminder for us to reevaluate our adherence to grammar rules that might hamper the function of our sentences.
For example, it’s really time to update up thinking around certain “rules” (and misconceptions) involving the Active versus the Passive voice.