The Mechanics of Writing Composition

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

In composition, the conventions governing the technical aspects of writing, including spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and abbreviations.  Getting your main points together can be a challenge, and one solution is to put together a draft of main ideas before writing. Some writing textbooks also include issues related to usage and organization under the broad heading of mechanics. Below is a glossary and list of resources for the mechanics of writing composition for students and writers.

The Danger of Overemphasizing Mechanics

"Teachers using a traditional, product-oriented approach tend to focus on the formal mechanical and technical aspects of writing while paying little attention to the individual writer's communicative purposes. Thus with this approach there is a danger that, for many children, writing will become an exercise in formal mechanics divorced from personal content and intentions."
Joan Brooks McLane and Gillian Dowley McNamee, Early Literacy. Harvard University Press, 1990

Spelling

To improve spelling skills, you can use a memory device known as mnemonics. This memorable phrase, acronym or pattern can come in handy for remembering something like the spelling of a word. You can also increase your reading skills, make a list of common words you often misspell or mark words in a dictionary that seem to give you trouble repeatedly.

Punctuation

"[R]evision involves critical thinking about content, with secondary consideration to mechanics and neatness. This does not mean that technical aspects of writing can be ignored but that introductions to a revision that seems to privilege rote application of rules and neatness over critical interaction with text (however brief it may be for beginners) conveys entirely the wrong message to young authors.

As children learn the cognitive processes involved in revision, they acquire the inclination to monitor and revise their work in all areas."
Terry Salinger, "Critical Thinking and Young Literacy Learners."Teaching Thinking: An Agenda for the Twenty-First Century, ed. by Cathy Collins and John N. Mangieri. Lawrence Erlbaum, 1992)


Capitalization

"Capitalization and punctuation are the mechanics of writing. They are not simply rules that we must memorize and follow; they are specific signals to the reader. These mechanics are used to determine the meaning and to clarify intent. It is possible to change the connotation of a sentence by altering punctuation and/or capitalization." ​
Maureen Lindner, English Language and Composition. Career Press, 2005

Using proper capitalization is a grammar skill that can help improve your writing. Basic rules include capitalizing the first word in a sentence as well as in a quoted sentence. You also want to capitalize the letter "I" under all circumstances.


Abbreviations

"Mechanics, in theory, includes matters such as usage and spelling, as well as hyphenation and the use of italics. Essentially, mechanics refers to a set of conventions--how to abbreviate and when to capitalize, for example."
Robert DiYanni and Pat C. Hoy II, The Scribner Handbook for Writers, 3rd ed. Allyn and Bacon, 2001

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Nordquist, Richard. "The Mechanics of Writing Composition." ThoughtCo, Oct. 8, 2017, thoughtco.com/mechanics-composition-term-1691304. Nordquist, Richard. (2017, October 8). The Mechanics of Writing Composition. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/mechanics-composition-term-1691304 Nordquist, Richard. "The Mechanics of Writing Composition." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/mechanics-composition-term-1691304 (accessed May 21, 2018).