Our Writing Must Follow Expected Conventions

I recently read a short story by a young author. I enjoyed her plot, her imagination, and her use of words. One thing I didn’t like was missing apostrophes in all her contractions. Each time I encountered a contraction sans apostrophe it took me out of her story. These reoccurring speed bumps reduced my enjoyment of her work.

I’m not sure why she did this, especially since most programs will auto-correct missing apostrophes whenever possible. Even my smart phone does that.

As a college student it’s hard to believe she didn’t understand the use of apostrophes. Was she being sloppy? Didn’t she care? Was this a rebellious act, trying to make some point? I have no idea.

What I do know is that writing entails following certain conventions. If we want others to best understand our work, we must adhere to expected standards for sentence structure, paragraph use, upper and lower case, spelling, and, yes, punctuation.

New writers too often struggle in understanding the basic conventions of standard punctuation. Commas and quotes are common sources of confusion. While mastering the full intricacies of proper punctuation – over which there can be occasional debate – requires effort and time, there’s no excuse for not following the basics. Writers who assume punctuation doesn’t matter are shortsighted, more likely, lazy.

As writers, we want others to understand our words and not dismiss our work. This requires we follow expected writing conventions, whether we agree with them or not. This includes proper punctuation.

What punctuation errors frustrate you? What writing conventions do you struggle with?

4 thoughts on “Our Writing Must Follow Expected Conventions

  1. Peter, I know the basics and try to do correctly but I always miss something that someone else sees. Apostrophes would distract me too, but haven’t ever come across any of them.

    Without realizing, I often use passive voice in the place of active verb and “it”. I have to be very aware to find it in second or third reading. (For example: The computer is not working well, but I still used.) Meant to say, “…still use it.”

    By the way, how do I deal with period, exclamation point, question mark in the case of one word? (….”it”) I know and always follow the rule of “period/?/! ” but how about only only “word” ???

    Have a great week!

    • Katina, we all miss things that others see. That’s why we need editors and beta readers and critique partners.

      Great question about punctuating one word. I’d look at the context and pick what supports your intended meaning. For example:

      Really.
      Really?
      Really!

      Depending on the punctuation, each one carries a different meaning.

      • Peter, I know what you say about context and meaning, I asked something else. Check if the 2nd sentence is correct: I have gone to Ithaca. Now, I also read “Ithaca” . Does the period on 2nd sentence goes within quotation marks–like in quoted sentences–or outside?

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