English is the world’s universal language and is the most spoken language worldwide.
It’s the dominant language in most academic and professional settings, so having a good grasp of it is essential.
The first step is to know the conventions of writing.
What are conventions in writing?
In this post, I’ll discuss the basic and specific genre-writing conventions and how they are crucial for writing clear sentence structure.
Let’s get started!
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What does “convention” mean in writing?
I define writing conventions as the set of technical rules and standards you must follow to write clearly and concisely.
Teaching writing conventions is a common practice in elementary and high schools. Students should learn these rules early on so they can become good writers.
Conventions set the tone, style, and organization of writing. They help you create a unified structure in your writing and help the reader understand what they are reading.
Writing conventions include grammar rules, punctuation marks, punctuation placement, capitalization rules, spelling conventions, and other writing mechanics that make writing clear.
You could probably get away with not following the proper writing conventions in middle school. But the further you get in your field, the better your main writing conventions should be.
Here are the general writing conventions to observe for clear and concise writing.
When it comes to spelling, accuracy is crucial.
Spelling errors can confuse readers and obscure a piece’s intended message. Incorrect spelling can also be seen as unprofessional, so you must ensure that all spelling is correct throughout your work.
Here are some important rules to help you use English words in their correct spelling:
- Every syllable of a word includes a vowel.
- The letter s never follows the letter x in a word. To achieve the /s/ sound, we use the letter c instead.
Examples: exercise, excite, excise
- U always follows Q.
Examples: queen, quail, earthquake
- In any word that includes i and e side-by-side, i comes first, except after c, unless it sounds like /a/.
Examples: piece, field, receive, neighbor
- Adding prefixes does not change the spelling of the word.
Examples: deactivate, reenact
- When adding suffixes that start with e (such as -ed, -er, or -est) to words that end in y, the y usually changes to i.
To avoid spelling mistakes, use spellcheckers such as Grammarly or Language Tool to check for spelling errors or proofread your work before submitting it.
Punctuation is an essential element of the English language. It adds clarity, precision, and meaning to our written words.
Knowing how and when to use question marks, quotation marks, periods, commas, semicolons, and exclamation points ensures proper grammar usage.
It also helps you write coherent sentences and communicate thoughts and ideas more effectively and efficiently.
Here are a few basic punctuation rules to help you pen complete sentences with proper grammar:
Punctuation marks in a sentence must be parallel. If you used a comma to interrupt the main clause, you need to provide the same type of punctuation mark at the end.
- Incorrect: The dancers, wearing their bedazzled costumes – smiled as they looked up at the stadium full of spectators.
- Correct: The dancers, wearing their bedazzled costumes, smiled as they looked up at the stadium full of spectators.
Quotation marks (“) indicate direct quotations of a word or phrase and titles of books, articles, and chapters.
- “I am exhausted,” she said. “I want to go on a vacation!”
- Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit” is a self-help book that aims to help readers build healthy habits.
An apostrophe (‘) represents a letter omitted from a word in a contraction. An apostrophe can also show ownership.
- I don’t (do not) want to go.
- You’re (you are) my best friend.
- Jake’s poor grades are because of his parents’ divorce.
A comma (,) connects two or more ideas in a sentence and separates items in a series.
- My favorite colors are yellow, orange, and pink.
- I’m an extrovert, but I do love my alone time.
A question mark (?) asks a direct question.
- Are you going to the party?
- Is that my shirt?
A period (.) indicates a full stop in a sentence.
- I hate you.
- I am done.
A colon (:) appears at the end of a clause. It also helps make lists, series, and restatements easier to read.
- I have three cats: a Persian cat and two Siamese cats.
A semicolon (;) divides two independent clauses.
- I love my new job; It’s my passion.
Grammar conventions are specific rules that make sentences intelligible and concise.
This refers to sentence structure, verb tenses, subject-verb agreement, and other important factors that impact sentence and paragraph formation.
Here are some helpful grammar tips you need to know:
- A complete sentence must have a noun and a verb.
- Always use an active voice when writing a sentence. Active sentences use the formula: Subject + Verb + Object.
- Kat (subject) drives (verb/ action) a Tesla car (object/ receiver of the action).
- To combine multiple ideas, clauses, or sentences, use conjunctions such as: but, and, so, or, for, nor, yet.
- Kat drives a Tesla car, but her brother drives a Ferrari.
- Use the present perfect tense for past actions related to or continuing into the present.
- I have worked as a writer for two years.
- I have written books of different genres.
- Use subject-verb agreement correctly. The rule of thumb is that a singular subject takes a singular verb while a plural subject takes a plural verb.
- Make sure to check for dangling modifiers. A dangling modifier occurs when the introductory phrase’s intended subject is missing.
- Incorrect: To become a resident doctor, many years must be spent studying.
- Correct: To become a resident doctor, you must spend many years studying.
- Avoid run-on sentences and fragments. Make sure multiple clauses are correctly connected by punctuation.
Capital letters have three important uses:
- Indicate when a sentence begins
- Show important words in a title
- Designate proper names and official titles
Knowing when and how to use capital letters can improve the clarity and readability of your writing.
Here are essential capitalization rules to keep in mind when writing:
- Use a capital letter when beginning a sentence.
- I found Kris sleeping on the floor.
- Capitalize names and proper nouns. Proper nouns specify people, things, and places.
- I will always love New York.
- Have you met my cat, Winston?
- You don’t always need to capitalize after a colon.
- I have two passions in life: writing and cooking.
- Capitalize the names of days, months, and holidays but not seasons.
- I hate Mondays!
- I hate winter!
- Capitalize the first word of a quote but not partial quotes.
- Vincent asked, “Why can’t I get you off my mind?”
- Stacy said she was “too cool” to be at that party.
- When writing a title, capitalize the first word, all nouns, all verbs, all adjectives, and all proper nouns.
- I loved reading the novel, “The Five People You Meet in Heaven.”
- Capitalize the names of cities, countries, nationalities, and languages.
- I grew up in the United States, but I can speak French, Mandarin, and Spanish.
- Capitalize historical events, periods, and eras that have proper names.
- My grandfather fought during World War I.
- Bowl cuts were popular during the Middle Ages.
Paragraphing is a writing application where you separate a text into paragraphs.
The purpose of paragraphing is to link partial ideas of individual sentences into a unified thought, indicate movements in thinking, and give readers time to pause.
It’s also an important technique for writing effective and organized content.
It helps readers quickly comprehend the main ideas of a text by breaking it down into smaller, more digestible chunks.
It also creates visual appeal, making large blocks of text easier to read.
A well-paragraphed essay requires careful planning and knowledge of a paragraph’s three-part structure: topic sentence, development and support, and conclusion.
- Topic sentences or paragraph leaders introduce the main idea of a paragraph. They prepare the readers by making a clear point of discussion about the topic.
- Development and support sentences function as the body of the paragraph.
Development sentences provide specific details about the topic sentence.
Support sentences provide evidence and other information that can support the main idea.
- The conclusion sums up the idea in a way that would help readers transition to the next paragraph.
When writing with paragraphing in mind, each new idea should start at the beginning of a new paragraph.
Doing so helps to identify and separate each idea, avoiding confusion and ensuring a logical connection between ideas.
Paragraphs should be short—no more than three sentences in length. Long paragraphs can feel overwhelming for readers, making it difficult to understand or retain the information presented.
Aside from the basic writing conventions, you also need to know which writing conventions are appropriate for specific types of content to ensure clarity in your writing.
Narrative writing is a powerful method of storytelling that can evoke emotion and create impact.
A narrative text is a short story or book that involves characters and dialogue.
It uses emotive language or descriptive words that convey feelings and persuade the readers to experience the same emotions a character feels.
You must apply narrative writing conventions for your stories to be engaging and well-structured.
One way to do that is by using a story mountain structure. This includes:
- A beginning where you introduce story elements such as the characters, places, and tone
- A conflict or a foreshadowing of things to come
- A climax or the point of high tension in the story
- A resolution or events of a story that transpired after the climax
- An ending where you explain the moral or meaning of the story
Letter writing conventions are the rules that guide letter composition. A well-crafted letter must include the following:
- A heading where you provide your information for the reader to identify and contact you in return
- A date to indicate when you wrote the letter
- Addressee information where you indicate the details about the person you’re sending the letter to: their name, address, and other contact details
- A salutation or a word of welcome such as “Dear” and the name of the person you’re writing to
- The body or the main text of the letter
- A closing phrase before you write your name and signature, such as “Sincerely” or “Best Regards”
When writing academic or formal documents, it is important to be aware of formal writing conventions. Here are some more essential formal writing conventions you need to remember:
- Use proper grammar and terminology, and avoid using slang, figures of speech, and abbreviated words.
- Take an objective approach. Use a third-person point of view instead of a first-person (I, we, us) and second-person (you) point of view.
- Use complete words instead of contractions or acronyms.
Instructional writing is a specific genre that aims to provide educational guidance to an audience. It can take on the form of recipes, instruction manuals, and how-to articles.
When writing instructional materials, think about who you are trying to reach and consider any potential challenges or risks your instructional topic poses.
Doing so will help you anticipate potential issues early in the writing process.
Persuasive writing is a powerful and compelling way to communicate your message effectively.
It needs a clear point of view and often uses emotive language or rhetorical questions to make the reader think.
Understanding the audience is critical in persuasive writing, as it helps you tailor your arguments to the specific needs of the readers.
Aim to understand their values and beliefs so that you can better address their concerns and make a more persuasive argument.
Each kind of writing has its own conventions. To be an effective writer and craft high-quality content, you need to evaluate your work and ask yourself these questions:
- What specific genres do I want to write?
- Are my sentences complete?
- Did I spell the words correctly?
- Is there any run-on sentence(s)?
- Did I use the pronouns correctly?
- Did I use the correct subject-verb agreement in my sentences?
- Is the verb tense consistent throughout my writing?
- Did I place my capitalization and paragraphs correctly?
Once you’ve identified any errors, revise your text until you’ve met all the writing conventions.
Learning the rules of writing conventions can be daunting, but having a solid understanding of these tools is essential to producing impressive written works.
Good use of writing conventions allows writers to craft clear and concise pieces that communicate their point quickly and effectively.
If you’re ready to fill a blank page with words, check out this article on how to start writing.