6 + 1 Writing Traits: Conventions

suit unconventionalOutside of graduate school, I’ve never heard it called “conventions,” but I do sometimes catch myself explaining concepts to people in this way. I’ll say: we do this because it’s our convention. What I mean is: we do this because it’s our chosen style. “We” have all agreed to do it this way. It isn’t necessarily “right” or “wrong,” but the group has decided how the group wants the particular issue of style to be done. It comes down to expectations. What is expected and how far can (should) you push to make a difference?

Conventions are the mechanical correctness of the piece—spelling, grammar and usage, paragraphing (indenting at the appropriate spots), use of capitals, and punctuation. Writing that is strong in conventions has usually been proofread and edited with care. Handwriting and neatness are not part of this trait. The key is this: How much work would a copy editor need to do to prepare the piece for publication?”—Source: random piece of paper @ 2004 from a graduate course that I recently retrieved from the floor of my home-office

My job is all about knowing and enforcing conventions. I strive to be consistent and achieve consistency in all of our written publications. Observing conventions weighs heavily into the next topic, which is Presentation.

I think of the importance of conventions like this. Say you have a $300 business suit. The fit is perfect. You look like a million bucks when you wear it. Your handsomeness knows no bounds. The girls are beside themselves. You are powerful indeed.

Now, instead of hanging your suit up after you’ve worn it, you’ve tossed it in the corner of your bedroom and the cat has spent the night on it. You’re in a hurry the next day, so you quickly brush off the cat hair and put it on.

A little cologne will mask that smell. Nevermind that the suit is terribly wrinkled.

This, my friend, is the value of conventions. Why would you do that? To a beautiful suit? To yourself? To your career? Why would you craft the best piece of writing ever and then not punctuate it correctly, not spell words correctly, use random capital letters willy nilly, or allow bad grammar?

Oh, the horror.

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