Conforming to the standard writing conventions make your essays, assignments,
dissertations and exams understandable and easy to read. Writing conventions are the language rules that help your reader understand your text.
Writing conventions bring out the meaning of your text as they guide your readers on how to read the text.
Your text must flow smoothly with commas, periods, hyphens where necessary.
Conforming to the writing conventions ensures that the communication process is made possible.
You must note that the writing conventions are historical agreements by society on how information should be relayed to make sense to the readers.
The agreements were made in the 18th and the 19th century, and they change slightly with time.
There are several reasons why it matters that your text is regarded as correct by your audience:
For students, it is not always easy to master all the writing conventions. This is because you will need time to learn the set rules, then edit all your work to conform with the set rules and guidelines in writing.
I bought vegetables, milk, bread, and cheese at the store.
NB: Use the word ‘and’ between the last two items of your list.
You can choose to put a comma or not before the word ‘and’ of your list.
Mary, her friend of five years, walked out on her after her alcohol addiction escalated.
A non-essential word or phrase means that you can take the whole chunk of a sentence out, and the sentence still works and has meaning.
Saturday, which also happens to be my relaxing day, is the only available day for a meetup.
Nyeri, which is in central Kenya, is the coldest region in Eastern Africa.
FANBOYS stands for: For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So.
The above are connecting words. They combine two sentence chunks that could be sentenced on their own.
The performance ended, but Mike preferred to leave before getting Lil Wayne’s autograph.
You can ask him, but I don’t think he has an answer.
I don’t have cash, so stop asking for money
When you have any FANBOY clause connecting two sentences that would make sense on their own, use a comma before the clause.
Yes, he was bullied at a tender age.
No, I do not need your assistance.
Appositives are synonyms from a juxtaposed phrase or word.
“While doing my shopping at the mall, I saw a Chihuahua, a type of dog.”
“A type of dog” is the appositive giving more information about “a Chihuahua.”
NB: If the appositive occurs at the middle of your sentence, add a comma at both sides of your phrase.
You do not need to add the comma if the sentence only mentions the month and year.
A Chihuahua, a type of dog, barked at me.
A Comma is used to offset negation
I saw a huge dog, not a German Shephard when I was on my way to school.
Such adjectives are also known as coordinate adjectives.
A perfect way to determine if a comma is needed in this scenario is to put ‘and’ between the two adjectives. Is the resulting phrase makes sense, then add the comma.
She is a strong, healthy woman.
We could also say that she is a healthy, strong woman, or she is a strong and healthy woman.
However, sentences with non-coordinate adjectives do not need a comma. For example,
“We rented a cheap summer house for our holiday.”
in the above case, we cannot interchange the adjective “cheap” with “summer resort”.
If the above adjectives are interchanged, the sentence will lose its meaning.
February 12, 2019, was the day he was born.
NB/ Separate the combination of those elements from the rest of the sentence with commas.
Commas are used before a sequence of three numbers when noting down a number larger than 999
For example: 23,973
However, this rule does not apply to years or house numbers.
Barkley Jones, D.D.S., held a briefing with the shareholders of the company.
When you are not sure, always lean towards pulling it out.
A period is also known as a full stop in British English.
It is a small dot punctuation mark.
A period ends of an imperative or declarative statement.
In other words, a period ends a complete idea.
Do not put a space before a period. Instead, space is needed after a period.
Besides, it is a requirement that you start the sentence after the period with a capital letter.
When to use Periods
Iron your clothes before you put them back in the wardrobe.
Close the door behind you.
b. Periods are used at the end of an indirect question
I have a question I need to ask you.
My father used to wonder why my room was always cluttered.
The coach asked Andrew why he was late for practice.
Our dog is white in colour.
John wants to be a doctor after school.
NB: If the abbreviation ends at the end of a command, an indirect question or a statement, the period ending the abbreviation also completes the sentence.
However, although acronyms, such as NATO, WHO, and RADAR, are also abbreviations, they do not usually require periods.
NB/ Exclamation marks and question marks replace and eliminate periods at the end of a sentence.
Did you get your money?
Get out of here immediately!
She doesn’t smoke.
Don’t eat that cake, it is stale.
Other contractions include:
Can’t, rock ‘n’ roll, ’tis, should’ve, etc.
Why are you wearing Barkley’s shoes?
Maribel’s and Cesar’s homes are both lovely
The boss’s husband
A man’s hat
NB: If the ‘s’ after the noun is pronounced, use an apostrophe.
Boris’s barbecue was amazing
Also, if you need to make a letter plural, then add an apostrophe.
How many a’s are in the word astigmatism?
An exclamation mark is also known as an exclamation point.
An exclamation mark shows emotions such as shock, surprise, anger, or command.
They are commonly used after interjections.
Interjections are phrases or words that are used to exclaim, protest or command.
Examples of interjections include, wow, oh, and boy.
Boy! I wish I did the assignment earlier.
Wow! This food is super delicious.
Sometimes you can use an exclamation mark together with a question mark, also known as an interabang.
Why are you doing this to me!?
The above example shows that I sound upset, but at the same time, I am also asking you a question.
NB: You should rarely use an exclamation mark in academic writing. Only use it when it is necessary.
A question mark is used at the end of an interrogative question.
An interrogative question is a question that poses a question to the readers.
Question marks are used in cases where either direct or indirect questions are being asked.
It is also important to note that an interrogative question has its subject and verb inverted.
Are you coming?
Do I need to repeat the question?
Always remember the basic rule that if your sentence is asking a question, it must finish with a question mark. Otherwise, the sentence will seem confusing to your reader.
Colons introduce related information. Find below key rules in the use of colons:
This summer I want to visit three cities: London, Barcelona, and Paris.
I asked her to buy four items at the store: Juice, groceries, bread, and butter.
I have three items in my car boot: my suite case, ball, and a pair of shoes.
Our vacation in Egypt was the best: we visited the red sea and the pyramids.
Urbanization has led to numerous problems: air pollution increased crime rates, and a shortage of housing for families.
As seen from the example above, the sentence before the colon introduces a general idea which is ‘numerous problems’.
The sentence after the colon explains what these problems are.
Abraham Lincolns philosophy of commonsense can be summed up as:
“Common sense is cultivated primarily by thinking consistently, analytically, and logically, to reduce the pain of frustration and secondarily to increase success and please in work to live.”
There are five biggest cities in South Africa:
To Whom It May Concern:
Dear Mr Jones:
With numbers, colons are used in separating units of time. For example, 3:29:00 expressing, three hours, twenty-nine minutes, and zero seconds. Colons are also used in bible verses, for example, Mathew 4:21.
Colons are also used to separate titles from subtitles.
How to Tame a Wild Tongue: Borderlands La Frontera
NB: The best way to know if you’ve used a colon properly is to ask yourself whether the content preceding the colon can stand on its own, that is, the words that come in from off the colon. If the words do not make a complete thought, then you may be misusing the colon.
Also, the first word after a colon should be in lower case if at all the words after the colon forms a dependent clause. In other words, if the words after the colon cannot stand on their own, then always ensure that they are in lower case.
If the clause after the colon is independent, you may choose to have it in capital or not.
Whichever approach you choose to follow, always ensure that you are consistent.
A semicolon is used to join closely related ideas. They are most similar to a period and can be used at the end of a sentence.
However, the difference is that, by using a semicolon, the writer shows that the ideas before and after a semicolon are connected.
Using a semicolon brings a link to your ideas, a prerequisite to writing clearly and efficiently.
The use of a semicolon makes your writing seem sophisticated.
Key Rules in Semicolon use:
On our trip to Africa, we will be visiting Zanzibar, Kampala; Nairobi, Lagos, and Cairo.
However, they choose to talk, people are given the right to talk; as a result, most people misuse the freedom of speech.
NB: Delete the conjunction every time you choose to use a semicolon
Conjunctions such as but, or, and are also used to join sentences. However, you should not use conjunction together with a semicolon.
In other words, a semicolon is used in the place of a conjunction.
A semicolon is used to make an emoticon such as 😉
Be sure to include a comma after these terms and words.
Bring your clothes for laundry; however, do not bring your jeans wear and jackets.
NB: Do not capitalize words after a semicolon.
A hyphen is a punctuation mark that is used to:
It is a four-hour drive to the city.
It’s a 3-dollar meal
They have a four-year-old Chihuahua.
His ex-girlfriend has been promoted.
Two-thirds of the population.
However, if you are not sure what to do, just write the number.
They both serve the same purpose. However, use the double when quoting what someone has said.
He stood up and said, “I want my money before the end of the day.”
Before a speech mark, you can put a comma, a colon or nothing (most efficient).
Whichever style that you choose be consistent.
Paying 2000 dollars for ‘Luxury Economy’ was a very good idea.
The above statement shows that there was nothing luxurious about the plane journey.
Why did you use ‘vicissitudes’ here?
‘Vicissitudes’ is a difficult word to spell
the above words are used indirectly to refer to words themselves rather than ideas.
Use double speech marks to quote what someone has said and
Single speech marks for everything else.
Complete sentences complete at least one subject and one verb. The number of its subjects and verbs must be in agreement.
The cow grows
Subject-verb agreement is straight-forward except for compound sentences.
Neither the cow nor the grass grows
On the other hand, compound subjects with the conjunction “AND” use plural verbs.
The grass and the cow grow.
Questionnaires are a way to collect information and allow researchers to gain an excellent understanding of their dissertation.
There are many factors of students failing
There is a lot of government support for the project
Examples of collective nouns include group, team, family, class, and committee.
Example in a sentence:
The team meets (singular verb) every Sunday.
The band sings (singular verb) on Friday.
Three grams of salt will be sufficient for preparing the soup
Five minutes is a short time in a mathematics exam.
Nobody wants to be hated
The exceptions to the above rule include:
“few,” “many,” “both,” “some,” “all,” and “several.”
the above exceptions always take the plural form.
Few were left at work that fateful day
Both are good for consumption
Locally produced goods have shorter supply chains.
The earnings for this month exceed expectations.
Sentence formation looks into how a sentence is structured, and how clauses and phrases are used in the creation of simple or complex sentences
Before we start looking into the different forms of sentences, let’s look into a few basic rules of a standard sentence:
A simple sentence contains only one independent clause. The independent clause has a subject and a verb. However, it may also have modifiers and an object.
I love music.
She completed her assignment.
They studied mathematics for many hours.
A compound sentence contains at least two independent clauses.
The two independent clauses could be combined with a semicolon or a comma with a coordinating conjunction.
I love music, and I love to listen to it often.
He organized his clothes by colour; then, he did the laundry.
They planted their crops at the right time of the season, but they did not have sufficient fertilizer.
A complex sentence contains at least one independent clauses and a subordinate clause (also known as a dependent clause) put together.
If a sentence begins with a dependent clause, there has to be a comma after the clause;
If a complex sentence begins with an independent clause, we don’t put a comma to separate the two clauses.
I love to listen to music after doing my homework.
The subordinate clause here is: “after doing my homework”
Because he organized his clothes by colour, it was easier for his girlfriend to do the laundry.
Note the comma in the sentence above because it begins with a dependent clause.
They studied mathematics formulae the whole day as they were very interesting.
Note that there is no comma in the sentence above because it begins with an independent clause.
A compound-complex sentence has two or more independent clauses and one or more subordinate clauses.
I love music, and I love to listen to it after doing my homework.
Although he organized his clothes by colour, he decided to arrange them by material type, and he carefully followed his girlfriend’s plan for organization.
NB/ Pay attention to the use of commas in compound-complex sentences. Commas make it easy for the reader to follow the intended meaning of your sentences.
Modifiers are all adjectives and adverbs.
Adjectives modify a noun, e.g.
The white cat.
“white” describes the cat
Adverbs modify a verb, e.g.
He ran quickly.
“Quickly” describes running.
A dangling modifier is a modifier without a word to modify.
Absentminded, forgot to buy fruits at the market.
What does “absentminded” describe?
Does it describe a guy? A fruit? The market?
There’s something critically missing from the above sentence, and that’s the noun or pronoun.
Therefore, “Absentminded” is called a dangling modifier.
A squinting modifier is a modifier that is unclear because it could either modify the word before it or the word after it.
Eating your food quickly causes stomach-ache.
What really causes stomach ache?
Is it the food or eating the food quickly?
It’s unclear whether it is the food or eating the food quickly that causes stomach ache.
That’s what we call a squinting modifier.
Verb tense indicates when something is happening.
I jumped – Past
I will jump – Future
Mood indicates attitude
States facts or asks questions e.g.
Are you going to the hospital?
The sky is clear tonight
It shows doubt or a wish. In other words, it expresses a fictional condition
I would go to the hospital if I was you
It expresses a request or a command. E.g.
You will go to the hospital.
Please drive the car.
Depends on a circumstance
I will go to the hospital if you come with me.
A pronoun replaces a specific noun or sometimes another pronoun.
A pronoun can be a person or number.
First Person: this is the speaking person. For example:
I am going to school.
“I” is the pronoun
Second Person: this is the person being addressed. E.g.
You are a naughty girl.
“you” is the pronoun.
Third Person: this is the person being spoken about. E.g.
He stays with his dad.
“He” is the pronoun
Singular pronouns: I, my, mine, me, you, someone, she, it, anyone, herself, himself
Plural Pronouns: Us, ours, they, their, them, we, those.
NB: Sentences that fail to conform to conventions of usage need to be revised.
Such sentences may use pronouns or possessive determinants incorrectly.
Nouns and/or pronouns replaced are called antecedents.
Certain antecedents require specific pronouns.
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NB: Ideas must be expressed carefully so that pronouns clearly refer to specific antecedents.
There are 13 pronouns used to show possession.
Some of them do not need to modify anything.
These are considered to be strong pronouns: mine, yours, theirs, ours, and hers
There are eight other pronouns that are considered weak because the things that they modify must be mentioned. These eight pronouns function as possessive determinants.
Consider the sentences below:
This is my car
What is your name?
From the above, “this” and “your” are weaker pronouns because they have to match with “car” and “name” respectively.
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