Writing Mechanics: The Blueprint to Effective Writing

You may have the best content ideas, and understand all the principles of effective writing, but none of it makes a difference if you don’t know how to put a sentence together.

Writing mechanics are the fundamental tools and structures of writing, and without them a reader won’t understand your writing, let alone be persuaded by it.

Mastering writing mechanics improves the effectiveness of everything you write, so let’s take a look at these essential building blocks of writing. 

What Are Writing Mechanics?

Mechanics are to writing what grammar is to speech. In other words, writing mechanics is the set of rules and principles that make writing clear and easy to understand.

If grammar covers rules like subject-object agreement and verb tenses, writing mechanics covers principles of punctuation, capitalization, and other tools that help language make sense on the page.

Effective writing requires that language is not just grammatically correct, but that it’s also written in the correct way. That’s where mechanics comes in.

The Importance of Getting it Right

Today, we have more tools than ever that automate our writing. Spellcheck, grammar checkers, and auto-correct are all great tools to improve our writing. However, these tools do not replace the writer’s understanding of mechanics, because only you know exactly what you intend, and how best to communicate your meaning.

Mastery of writing mechanics is critical for:

  • Clarity. We’ve all laughed at autocorrect fails when they show up in the feed, or been confused by an unfamiliar acronym. Proper writing mechanics helps your sentences communicate clearly and correctly, so the reader understands your intent and can follow your train of thought.
  • Focus. Not only is poor construction unclear, but it’s also distracting. Spelling and grammatical mistakes draw focus away from your subject, detracting from what you intend to communicate. If a reader can’t follow your sentences, they will lose focus and move on to something else.
  • Professionalism. Finally, and most importantly for paid writers, correct mechanics is essential for professionalism. If a client is paying you to write, mechanical errors are the first indicator of low quality in your work. If they plan on sharing your work with their audience, your writing reflects on their brand and their professionalism, so it has to be right.

Proper writing mechanics is critical, but fortunately it also isn’t very difficult. There are just a handful of rules and principles to master, and the page is yours!

The Basic Rules of Writing Mechanics

As mentioned, writing mechanics goes hand in hand with grammar. These principles complement the basic rules of grammar, and apply them specifically to writing, so grammar is still fundamental.

Here are the most important principles of writing mechanics:

Parts of Speech

The parts of speech are the basic categories that words belong to, and they govern how the words relate to each other. Writers need to understand nouns and pronouns, verbs and adverbs, and how to correctly use prepositions and conjunctions.

In English, for example, we usually place adjectives before the noun they modify (“black coffee” “small dog” “beautiful flower”), and adverbs after* the verb they modify (“said angrily” “walked quickly” “hugged gently”).  

*of course this isn’t really a rule, and many correct sentences do place adverbs before the related verb

Sentence Structure

A complete sentence contains at least a subject and a verb. A typical English sentence uses the word order subject+verb+object (“the boy bounced the ball”), but there are a huge range of correct ways to put together a sentence.

The basic building blocks of sentences are:

  1. A clause. A clause contains a subject and verb, and can be a complete sentence. When joined correctly with conjunctions and/or punctuation, multiple clauses can be used to make compound sentences.
  2. A phrase. A phrase is a collection of words without a subject or verb, used to modify the other parts of a sentence. “Underneath the table” or “despite the opposition” or “with a big smile” are all examples of phrases.

Some of the most common sentence construction errors are:

  • Fragments. A sentence fragment lacks a subject or a verb. “The red pen that the girl had” is a fragment, while “the girl had a red pen” is a complete sentence.
  • Run-ons. A run-on sentence isn’t just a long sentence, and run-ons can be short. A run-on sentence simply doesn’t use conjunctions or punctuation correctly, so that the two clauses are fused and unclear. “The train jumped the track the passengers were not injured” is a run-on sentence. It could be corrected with “The train jumped the track. The passengers were not injured.” or “The train jumped the track, but the passengers were not injured.”
    • Comma splices. A comma splice is a specific form of run-on sentence where a comma is used incorrectly. “The train jumped the track, the passengers were not injured” is an example of comma splice.
  • Dangling participles. A dangling participle is a sentence where an adjective or participle is used incorrectly, so it’s unclear which noun it modifies. For example, “Topped with cheese, I ate the burger.” Because of the placement of the modifying participle, this sentence reads as though I was topped with cheese, instead of the burger.

    Naturally you could correct this sentence with “I ate the burger topped with cheese”, but also keep in mind that when you start a sentence with a participle, the noun it modifies must immediately follow. “Wearing a green dress, the girl…” “With shaggy hair, the dog…“ “Shooting through the sky, the rocket…”
  • Faulty parallelism. Parallel sentence construction uses the same structure and format in all parts of a sentence, so the parts agree with each other grammatically. For example, in the sentence “the book was both fun to read and for talking about”, the presence of the word “both” requires that “to read” be paired with a second infinitive verb to make a parallel sentence.

    You might fix it with “the book was both fun to read and to discuss” or “the book was fun to read and also to talk about”. 


Correct punctuation is essential for clarity in writing.

The most common punctuation errors are:

  • Misused apostrophes. The apostrophe has only three purposes:
    • To form possessive nouns. The apostrophe replaces the words “of the”. For example, “the table’s leg” instead of “the leg of the table”
    • To form contractions. When you are replacing letters with an apostrophe. For example, “don’t” instead of “do not”, or “I’m” instead of “I am”
    • (Rarely) to form a plural in letters or abbreviations. The apostrophe isn’t used to form a standard plural, but can sometimes be used to indicate plurals in instances like “he got two B.A.’s.”
  • Misused quotation marks. Quotation marks are always used to distinguish exact speech, and never for emphasis. Be cautious about the use of scare quotes, and review how to use them correctly.
  • Commas. Commas are arguably the most used and abused form of punctuation in English. Aside from the Oxford comma debate, commas are used incorrectly in lists, in conjunctions and splices, in quotations, in phrases… if you’re unsure when and how to use a comma, here is a great resource.  


English spelling is difficult, but needs to be correct. Use a spellcheck, use a dictionary, use a proofreader, but make sure you get it right. 


Capitalization is tricky, because it has overlapping rules with grammar, writing mechanics, and also writing conventions and style guides. Check your writing conventions for rules on capitalization in titles and headers, but here are the most frequently used rules of capitalization:

  • Capitalize the first word of a document, the first word of a sentence, and the first word of a direct quote within quotation marks
  • Capitalize proper nouns, including the names of people, places, and companies, and capitalize their initials or acronyms
  • Capitalize the days of the week, months of the year, and historical eras (“the Great Depression”)
  • Capitalize nicknames, and also kinship names when they are used in place of a personal name (“he loved Mom’s cooking”) 


Redundancy is unnecessary repetition, and should be avoided. “Evil villains,” “geriatric old people,” or “we must now at this time immediately” are all redundant phrases.  


Modern language is full of TLAs (Three Letter Abbreviations), and writers should not assume that readers know the abbreviation or acronym in question. Always introduce an abbreviation or acronym the first time you use it in a piece of writing.

The most common method is to first write out the abbreviation or acronym, capitalizing each letter, and introducing the acronym you will use going forward. For example, “the Food and Drug Association (FDA)” or “English as a Second Language (ESL)”. 

The Three H’s: Homonyms, Homographs, and Homophones

The three H’s are a frequent source of writer mistakes, misspellings, and misadventures. To put it briefly:

  • Homonyms are two identical words with different meanings. For example, “sentence” as a part of speech, and “sentence” as a punishment for a crime. For clarity in writing, try to avoid homonyms unless the context makes the meaning crystal clear. 
  • Homographs are two words with the same spelling, but different meanings and pronunciation. For example, “wind” as the movement of air, and “wind” as a twisting or turning action. When writing, readers can’t hear differences in pronunciation, so avoid homographs unless, again, the context makes the meaning very clear. 
  • Homophones are words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings. Common trouble words for writers are “there/their/they’re” or “two/to/too”. Spellcheck will not always catch and correct homophones, and they can dramatically affect the meaning of a sentence. When in doubt, use a dictionary to make sure you are using the correct form of a homophone. 

Writing Mechanics – Summary

Writing mechanics can seem like a lot of rules and a lot of work, but try to think of this information as a set of tools. Correct mechanics helps to make your writing structurally sound, so that it can elevate your meaning and make it more effective for the reader. Writing mechanics are the building blocks of writing, and help you make a plan for great writing in any situation.

Writing Mechanics FAQs

What is the difference between writing mechanics and writing conventions?

While there is a lot of overlap between the two concepts, writing mechanics usually refers to the technical tools of writing, while writing conventions refer to how writing is usually done in various instances. There are different writing conventions for different purposes (journalism, academia, fiction, etc), but writing mechanics are fundamental for all forms of writing.

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About Rebekah Villon

Rebekah Villon is a professional writer and marketing consultant who specialises in strategic content for B2B communications. In her personal life, she enjoys the freedom of remote digital work while travelling, pursuing hobbies, and continuous learning.

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