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Understanding and Mastering the Basic Writing Conventions

May 9, 2020

Everything You need to Know about Writing Conventions

No student can avoid writing essays. Coming up with ideas and writing them down does not seem like much trouble. However, it is not enough to merely record your thoughts and opinions. You need to ensure that your writing is understandable, consistent, and error-free. Mastering writing conventions is very important if you want your academic papers to be readable and appropriate.

If you cannot define writing conventions at the moment, let us explain what they are and how you can work with them.

You can stumble upon various definitions, but generally, these conventions imply the ability to make your writing readable with the help of language rules. Your text should be smooth, with commas and periods in their proper positions. The ideas should also be understandable. It may sound clear in your head, but without knowing the rules, it will be hard to put them on paper correctly. Mastering the writing conventions will guarantee better grades and success in your studies, or maybe even a future profession.

Every student should work on their grammar, punctuation, spelling, and sentence structure. The practice is what helps you master your writing skills. That is why you are required to complete so many papers during your studies.

Main Writing Conventions

The major writing conventions include grammar, punctuation, spelling, as well as capitalization. Each one is equally important, so the high quality of your essays is achieved by mastering all of them. Surely, you have come across unreadable texts at least once in your life. Sometimes information may be tough to understand on account of the topic’s complexity, but very often, it is just poor writing.

There are two major aspects of writing conventions: Mechanics and Usage. Let’s discuss them in detail.

Mechanics of Writing

Writing mechanics implies a set of rules to be followed in written language. Students deal with questions from this category all the time: when they wonder whether a comma should be added after a particular phrase if they should use a colon instead of a hyphen if the first letter should be capitalized.

There are the following groups of writing mechanics:

1. Spelling

This important convention accompanies us through life. Kids learn to spell before they realize it. It happens as they start to recognize the letters and combine them to make words. In school, children are taught the rules of proper spelling. Many rules get broken and create new ones.

There is no doubt that correct spelling makes all the difference. Wrong spelling is the reason why hundreds of resumes get trashed, why impressions crumble. Surely, when you read a sentence with multiple misspelled words, it is very likely that you still can understand it. However, errors annoy and distract you, making the process of reading unenjoyable.

2. Punctuation

This part of writing mechanics is probably the most complicated. Plenty of people, native speakers included, make a lot of punctuation errors. This is because we acquire punctuation skills gradually, while the fluency of speaking is usually picked up in early childhood. This convention can be perfected with active learning and, of course, regular writing practice. There are more punctuation marks than many people know of. Using them properly can be tricky. These are the punctuation marks used in written English:

  • the period (full stop) (.).
  • The comma (,).
  • The colon (:).
  • The semicolon (;).
  • The apostrophe (‘).
  • The question mark (?).
  • The exclamation point (!).
  • the ellipsis (…).
  • the quotation marks (“)(“).
  • the hyphen (-).
  • The n-dash (–).
  • the m-dash (—).
  • the parentheses (round brackets) ( ).
  • the block (square brackets) [ ].
  • the braces (curly brackets) { }.

Arguably, the period and comma are the most frequently used punctuation marks. However, if you are writing an academic paper, you certainly need more than that. So it is essential to be able to use the rest of the punctuation marks correctly. The rules differ from country to country (American and British English). Besides, a university, school, or any other organization may have its own guidelines that explain how to use punctuation marks. In any case, consistency is always the key. Uniformity is the reason writing conventions exist in the first place.

3. Capitalization

Capitalization rules provide explanations when capital letters (or uppercase letters) should be used. The simplest rule is to begin a new sentence with a capital letter. Every child in the first grade knows that, right? However, capitalization is more than that.

Another capitalization rule is about proper nouns: for example, first names and surnames (Harry, Monica, Jameson, etc.), pet names (Simba, Charlie), companies and brands (Sony, Coca-Cola, Toyota, Apple), places (such as countries, states, cities, etc.) should be capitalized, no matter where in a sentence they appear. Needless to say, there are many more cases when the first letter in a word should be uppercase. We have just mentioned some examples above. Some popular brands deliberately write the name in lower case (iPhone, eBay, etc.).

Capital letters are also used in abbreviations, for example, WHO (World Health Organization), AI (Artificial Intelligence), WWF (World Wildlife Fund). These abbreviations stay capitalized no matter where they are placed in a sentence. Capitalization is nowadays widely used in digital communication to emphasize a point or the intensity of emotions.

Generally, this convention helps to shorten long names and phrases to take up less space. Besides, acronyms are easier to remember. There is good news: the rules of capitalization are solid and fast, so it is easy to learn and apply them.

Usage

Usage includes grammar, word choice, and vocabulary. While mechanics apply only to writing, usage is a broader aspect that refers to how we use certain words to convey meaning through sentences. The usage of words in informal speech is easier to master while writing mechanics tend to be more demanding for students.

Grammar and mechanics are sometimes thought of as a collocation. However, they are not interchangeable. Grammar refers to written and spoken forms (of the natural language), while mechanics – only to written aspects.

Grammar

Grammar is linked with mechanics very closely. It means knowing how to use words and their forms to formulate a coherent sentence. There are plenty of rules one must follow. It is not enough to understand when to add -ed. You should use times consistently and know the difference between them.

Every student should master these basic grammar elements:

  • sentence structure
  • word-choice
  • parts of speech
  • phrases and clauses

Grammar includes such parts of speech as:

  • nouns
  • adjectives
  • verbs
  • adverbs
  • prepositions
  • pronouns
  • conjunctions
  • interjections

Not only written, but spoken communication can be challenging in many ways. The major problem lies within inappropriate word choice or lack of words to communicate ideas. This can be tackled by expanding the vocabulary: reaching to dictionary definitions, reading specialized materials, watching documentaries, etc.

Writing Conventions Recommendations

Language rules may differ depending on the genre and content. Surely, there is a huge difference between writing conventions in formal essays and those in text messaging. Shortened forms of words and informal phrases may be acceptable by your peers on Facebook, but that won’t do with teachers and professors. Likewise, poetry composing follows different rules than essay writing.

Follow these recommendations on writing conventions for text production:

  • Use complete sentences
  • Avoid fragments
  • Eliminate fused sentences
  • If you mention someone’s name the first time, it should be full
  • Don’t use shortened forms of words or abbreviations
  • Pay attention to punctuation marks.
  • Write citations correctly

Writing Conventions as the Final Process

Isolated teaching of conventions is inoperative because students need to practice and apply their knowledge. Very often, they obtain only procedural knowledge – the rules of using conventions in their writing, which is of little help. Instructions should be integrated into the process of writing so that students could apply their knowledge of writing conventions.

Many studies prove that overwhelming children with information concerning conventions in early childhood may be detrimental to automaticity. The process of writing is normally accompanied by various cognitive and physical aspects: spelling, vocabulary, ideas, word order, letter formation, etc. They have to be automatic so that working memory could be saved. The best (or maybe the only) way to develop automaticity is practice. Most students do not encounter enough assignments that help in developing automaticity. Endless filling in empty spaces on the worksheets won’t do the job.

Early focus on conventions can also negatively affect motivation. Teachers and parents often pay too much attention to mistakes so that children lack confidence in their writing skills and abilities. First, students should be praised for their ideas, which can enhance motivation and confidence. It is optimal to insert writing conventions on the finishing stage, during revision.

Conclusion

Every student knows that rules are important. Writing conventions can be tricky, but ones you know how to use them and start employing the knowledge in practice, your texts will skyrocket to the new level. Always proofread your writing after they are completed, come up with a checklist, and keep practicing to see improvement.

Don’t hesitate to seek help online. Professional writers effectively use all writing conventions and produce brilliant results. If you want to see what a good essay looks like and impress your teacher, contact us.

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