9 Most Common Writing Conventions Writers Must Follow

Writers must follow specific rules to make their writing make sense, and those rules are called writing conventions.

Writing conventions are rules that writers follow that give their writing meaning and clarity. Students often study these rules in school, but they also become part of test prep programs. All writers, even established ones, can benefit from brushing up on these writing conventions.

When studying writing conventions, writers should learn both the main writing conventions and ones for specific genres, such as narrative writing or letter writing. Once you grasp these rules fully, you will be able to make written works that people can understand clearly. There are nine writing conventions worth looking into as you learn to be a better writer.

1. Spelling

Common writing conventions writers must follow

Spelling errors make English writing challenging to understand. As part of the writing process, you must be able to spell correctly. Spelling is also one of the most important self-editing skills.

Correct spelling gets tricky when it comes to homophones, which are words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings. For example, you need to know the difference between which and witch when Halloween time rolls around, or you might confuse your readers.

Read our guide to common spelling rules.

2. Grammar

Common writing conventions writers must follow
Standard English grammar rules remain essential conventions of writing that help your written works convey meaning properly

Grammar refers to the sentence structure, subject-verb agreement, tenses, and other aspects of building sentences and paragraphs that make sense. The standard English grammar rules are something most people learn in middle school and high school, but they remain essential conventions of writing that help your written works convey meaning properly.

Some common grammar rules that you will want to follow as you build your writing skill include:

  • Always writing complete sentences
  • Having proper subject/verb and pronoun/antecedent agreement
  • Avoiding passive voice, when possible
  • Not writing run-on sentences
  • Understanding parts of speech and using them correctly
  • When to use “a” versus “an” to describe a noun

Tip: Buy the best grammar checker you can afford.

3. Punctuation

Knowing where to put periods, commas, question marks, semicolons, quotation marks, and exclamation points are all critical to correct grammar usage. You’ll also want to know where parentheses, dashes and ellipses go, and how to use them properly. This is one of the fundamental writing conventions because it is vital to the meaning of sentences.

For example, you could say:

  • Let’s eat Grandma.

However, if you did, someone might call the authorities. If you say instead:

  • Let’s eat, Grandma.

Then you will be a thoughtful grandchild inviting your grandmother to dinner. 

Read our guide to grammar and punctuation.

4. Capitalization

Capitalization rules are the fourth of the four main writing conventions. In any piece of writing, you need to know when to capitalize. Common capitalization rules include:

  • Capitalize the first word in every new sentence
  • Capitalize acronyms
  • Capitalize proper names and proper nouns
  • Capitalize words in a title, except for short prepositions and articles
  • Capitalize days, months and holidays
  • Capitalize the first word in a quote after the quotation mark
  • Capitalize most time periods and major world events

5. Formal Writing Conventions

Writing formal text for academic settings has its own set of rules. While teachers and writing style guides set these, some that are common across different schools and guides include:

  • Avoid contractions
  • Avoid nicknames
  • Avoid slang
  • Follow the style guide for the particular class or setting

6. Letter Writing Conventions

When writing a letter, follow the rules for letter writing. These include:

  • Place the address in the top right corner of the page.
  • Use the date
  • Open with a greeting, such as “Dear Sir,”
  • Sign the letter

7. Narrative Writing Conventions

A narrative is a short story or book that includes characters and dialogue. When writing this, you will follow a pattern that consists of the introduction, climax, resolution and ending. Use proper grammar to showcase speech, but don’t be afraid to include dialect to make it more realistic.

8. Persuasive Writing Conventions

A persuasive text tries to convince the reader to agree with the author or to take action. It needs to have a clear point of view, and will often use emotive language or rhetorical questions to cause the reader to think. Typically, persuasive writing combines logic with emotion so to convince a reader of a point of view. It is common in personal essays, journalism and self-help.

Learn more about persuasive writing.

9. Instructional Writing Conventions

Instructional writing gives step-by-step instructions that tell the reader how to do something. Some of the conventions that apply to this genre include:

  • Use chronological order
  • Add imperative verb commands, like “make” or “stir”
  • Write in numbered lists to help the reader follow the steps

A Final Word on Writing Conventions

Writing conventions make English writing understandable. By following these rules, you can make the right word choice and choose the correct sentence structure to make your writing understandable and clear.

While writing conventions may seem obvious, it’s always good to brush up on them before sitting down to write. They are also vital to most school exams and college placement tests, which makes writing conventions an important part of most test prep resources.

Whether you are a seasoned writer or a student, learning these writing conventions, and learning them well, will only serve to help you write more accurately.

FAQs About Writing Conventions

What do writing conventions mean?

Writing conventions are the rules that writers must follow. They create clarity and give writing the correct meaning.

What are the conventions of writing?

The four major writing conventions include grammar, spelling, punctuation and capitalization. Writers also follow genre-specific writing conventions.

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