MY Access ®   Writers Guide

6.2  What are Mechanics & Conventions?
A Scene: During English Class
     Tony likes to ask questions. Sometimes he pretends that he doesn't understand just so he can have some fun with the teacher and make the class laugh.
Tony: Ms. Q, what does this mean? I understand the rest of the rubric, but what's this about mechanics and conventions? Is a convention a meeting where all the mechanics go to look at the new car jacks and wrenches or something? I know there's a convention center in the city somewhere.
Ms. Q: No, Tony. That's a different kind of convention. On the rubric, Conventions means rules for writing.
Tony: Like laws?
Ms. Q: Not exactly. They're more like agreements to do things a certain way to keep communication clear-so that we're writing the same language, you might say.
Tony: I don't understand why this is so important that it's on the rubric with the other things.
Ms. Q: I'll tell you a story, Tony. One spring break I flew to Bermuda for a vacation. As we were leaving the airport, the taxi I was in took off down the left side of the road. I thought, This man is we're going to hit that bus coming the other way. But we didn't. The bus, which appeared to be heading right for us, was also on the left side of the from its point of view. We passed each other just like we would in the U. S., but on the opposite side of the road.
Tony: So, why do they drive on the left? That is crazy.
Ms. Q: No crazier than driving on the right. It makes no difference, as long as everybody knows what the rules are. Bermuda used to be a British colony, and in Great Britain they drove on the left, so they made the same rule in Bermuda.
Tony: Did you have trouble keeping it straight while you were there? It must have been tough to drive.
Ms. Q: It was no trouble. At that time they wouldn't let you rent a car until you'd been on the island for a month and had a chance to get used to it. I'm sure that prevented a lot of crashes.
Tony: So, conventions are to keep you from crashing?
Ms. Q: In a way. You could say that following the rules or conventions prevents a lot of travel problems: wrong turns, detours, missed directions, and getting lost.
Tony: What kinds of rules are conventions?
Ms. Q: Conventions for writing include rules for grammar, usage, punctuation, spelling, and even word order.
Tony: What do you mean by word order?
Ms. Q: In English, for example, an adjective usually comes before the word it modifies. We would say, big lake, not lake big. In Spanish, conventional word order is the opposite of ours. The adjective usually follows the word it modifies. In Spanish, big lake would be lago grande, not grande lago.
Tony: Is that why it's so confusing to learn another you don't just have to learn the words. You have to learn a million rules for using them.
Ms. Q: That's right. You can know the meaning of very word in the French language, but if you don't know the rules, you won't be able to write a single sentence.
Tony: Okay, I get it, but what happened to the mechanics. Didn't they get invited to the convention?
Ms. Q: When you're a famous comedian, I hope you will send me tickets for your show. Yes, the mechanics got invited. They came to fix capitalization, use of quotation marks and underlining, punctuation of titles, abbreviations, and spacing.
Tony: Ms. Q, does anybody really know all of these rules? Do you?
Ms. Q: I'm sure I don't know every single one. It's complicated because the rules change over time. Also, there are different rules for different kinds of writing. The more formal the writing, the more strict are the rules. If you're writing a note to a friend, that's different from writing an essay for a college application.

As Tony and Ms. Q pointed out, there are many rules in this category.

The rubric defines Mechanics & Conventions as how well your writing demonstrates control of paragraphing, grammar, usage, punctuation, and spelling. You don't need to worry about whether a rule belongs under mechanics or conventions. (Authorities on writing don't always agree.)

A handbook to explain and illustrate all of the rules would be hundreds of pages long, so all we can do in the brief space we have here is show you the most important rules and give you examples of breaking the rules and following the rules.

We'll start with grammar and usage. Then we'll move on to punctuation, then spelling, and finally mechanics.

How do I know if I'm using Mechanics correctly?

The following sections are designed to help you understand how to use mechanics correctly, and recognize proper use of mechanics.

< Previous page    Table of Contents    Next page >