9 Most Common Writing Conventions Writers Must Follow


Every tool in a nurse’s arsenal counts in the quest for quality patient care. And writing, backed by solid conventions, is one powerful tool. As American author Pearl Buck rightly said, “The secret of joy in work is contained in one word – excellence. To know how to do something well is to enjoy it.” This article explores the depth of common writing conventions in nursing that each writer must follow.

Introduction to Basic Writing Conventions

Clear and effective communication is fundamental in any professional setting, but it can be a matter of life and death in the healthcare sector, specifically nursing. This makes the writing conventions in nursing essential tools for information exchange and vital components in ensuring safe and effective patient care.

Writing in the nursing field encompasses various styles and conventions. Whether documenting patient histories, drafting research articles, or penning reflective narratives, nursing writing conventions help to ensure clarity, professionalism, and integrity.  So, whether you’re a seasoned nursing professional looking to refine your writing skills or a nursing student grappling with the rules, this comprehensive guide should be a valuable resource.

What are Conventions in Writing?

Imagine trying to read a book or an article devoid of any rules. There are no capital letters at the start of sentences, punctuation is missing or misplaced, spelling is inconsistent, and the grammar is jumbled. It would be like navigating a maze without a clear path, making comprehension an uphill task. This is where writing conventions step in, bringing order to the chaos and paving a clear path for understanding.

Writing conventions are essentially the fundamental building blocks of written communication. They are the established, agreed-upon rules and standards we follow to ensure our writing is clear, consistent, and easy to understand. These conventions act as the ‘grammar’ of writing, guiding us to effectively construct and organize our written works to express our thoughts and ideas.

Main Writing Conventions

Like any other professional writing, nursing conventions require strict adherence to certain established rules. Four main elements of writing conventions include spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and grammar.

  • Spelling: Correct spelling is crucial in nursing writing. Correct spelling is crucial for communication because it allows readers to understand each word’s meaning. Incorrect spelling can lead to confusion, misinterpretation, or lack of understanding. In nursing, for instance, incorrect spelling of a medical term could lead to misdiagnoses or mistreatment.
  • Capitalization: Capitalization helps distinguish between common and proper nouns, titles, the beginning of sentences, and more. The capitalization rules help structure our sentences and add clarity to our writing. It ensures clarity and avoids ambiguity. For instance, in nursing, ‘white Blood cells’ and ‘White blood cells’ mean different things.
  • Punctuation: Punctuation marks shape our writing flow and contribute to meaning. For instance, the correct use of commas can change the meaning of a sentence. In nursing writing, appropriate punctuation is pivotal for clear, unambiguous communication.
  • Grammar: Grammar forms the backbone of effective communication. Proper use of tense, subject-verb agreement, and sentence structure help to convey the intended message clearly and precisely. In nursing, incorrect grammar can lead to miscommunication and potentially harmful outcomes.

Genre-Specific Writing Conventions

Each type of writing within the nursing profession comes with its own conventions. The rules for specific genres guide the structure, tone, and language used, creating a consistent approach that aligns with the purpose of the writing.

Narrative Conventions For Writing

In nursing, narrative writing often finds its place in documenting patient histories, writing reflective journals, or crafting case studies. Unlike other forms of writing, narrative writing focuses on telling a story. It involves a sequence of events or experiences, usually from a single person’s viewpoint.

For instance, when documenting a patient’s history, the narrative unfolds chronologically, beginning with the patient’s initial symptoms, diagnosis, treatment administered, progress, and eventual recovery or decline. Describing events vividly and accurately is important, capturing the essence of the patient’s health journey. Moreover, incorporating personal insights and observations enhances the richness and depth of the narrative.

Narrative writing conventions in nursing involve chronological organization, vivid descriptions, and personal insights while maintaining clarity, empathy, and professionalism. In this way, narratives are critical in recording comprehensive patient information and fostering empathetic patient care.

Persuasive Conventions For Writing

Persuasive writing is another genre that nursing professionals may encounter. It may be used to advocate for a patient’s needs, write a grant proposal for research, lobby for policy changes, or make compelling arguments in public health discussions.

Persuasive writing conventions require a clear stance on an issue, providing robust evidence to support this stance, presenting logical and structured arguments, and maintaining an engaging and respectful tone. The primary objective is to convince the reader of your viewpoint or to persuade them to take a specific course of action.

In nursing, persuasive writing’s power lies in its potential to effect change, whether securing better healthcare for a patient, obtaining funding for essential research, or driving policy change for improved health outcomes.

Instructional Conventions For Writing

Instructional writing plays a pivotal role in nursing. Whether it’s drafting patient care plans, writing instructions for medication, creating procedure manuals, or developing health education materials, instructional writing aims to deliver clear, concise, and easy-to-follow instructions.

The proper writing conventions for this genre include using precise language, maintaining a logical order, and emphasizing safety and clarity. Bullet points, numbered lists, diagrams, and illustrations enhance understandability.

In nursing, the quality of instructional writing can significantly impact patient care and safety. Therefore, mastering the conventions of instructional writing is crucial for any nursing professional.

Letter Writing Conventions

In their professional lives, nursing professionals may need to write letters to colleagues, patients, or administrative bodies. This could be a referral letter, a letter of recommendation, a complaint letter, or even a condolence letter.

The conventions of letter writing encompass proper greetings and closings, clear and concise language, and a professional, respectful tone. Furthermore, the content should be structured logically, with an introduction, a body where the main message is conveyed, and a conclusion or closing remark.

In nursing, letter-writing conventions foster professionalism, respect, and effective communication.

Formal Writing Convention

Formal writing is a common genre in nursing. It includes research papers, policy documents, academic essays, professional emails, and more. The key to formal writing lies in its seriousness and objectivity.

Formal writing conventions demand a serious and objective tone, precise language, proper citations, and attention to grammar, spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. Unlike narrative or informal writing, contractions, colloquial language, and personal anecdotes or opinions are usually avoided in formal writing.

Formal writing ensures the professional communication of important information, findings, and viewpoints in nursing, contributing to evidence-based practice, policy-making, and academic discourse.

Punctuation in Writing Conventions

Punctuation is a key component of writing conventions. It structures our sentences, gives them rhythm, and clarifies their meaning. Correct punctuation can differentiate between clear, effective communication and dangerous misunderstandings in nursing writing, where precision is crucial. For instance, the misplacement of a comma can significantly alter a sentence’s meaning, potentially leading to adverse outcomes.

Here are some key punctuation marks that are essential in nursing writing:

  • The Full Stop (.) – Also known as a period, the full stop signals the end of a complete thought or sentence. It provides a definitive end, allowing the reader to pause before moving on to the next sentence. In nursing, this clarity is crucial to avoid mixing different pieces of information.
  • The Comma (,) – The comma is like a breath in a sentence. It helps divide and group different parts of the sentence, making it easier to understand. For instance, it can separate items in a list or clauses in a sentence. However, misplaced commas can dramatically change a sentence’s meaning, potentially leading to misunderstanding or misinterpretation.
  • The Colon (:) – The colon expands on or explains something in the sentence. This could be used in nursing to further explain a diagnosis or treatment plan.
  • The Semicolon (;) – Semicolons connect closely related ideas without using a conjunction like ‘and’ or ‘but.’ This helps maintain the flow of information while keeping the related ideas together.
  • The Question Mark (?) – The question mark is used at the end of a direct question. This helps the reader understand when a question is being asked, which is especially important when seeking specific information.
  • The Exclamation Mark (!) – While not commonly used in professional nursing writing, an exclamation mark can be used for emphasis in more informal nursing writing.
  • Quotation Marks (” ” or ‘ ‘) – Quotation marks are used to cite someone’s words verbatim. This is particularly important in nursing when documenting patients’ own descriptions of their symptoms, experiences, or feelings.
  • Parentheses ( ) – Parentheses are used to include additional, non-essential information or clarifications in a sentence. This might include additional patient information or clarifications about a medical term in nursing writing.
  • The Apostrophe (‘) – The apostrophe is used to indicate possession (e.g., the patient’s chart) or to create contractions (e.g., can’t, won’t). In formal nursing writing, contractions are typically avoided to maintain a professional tone.

Basic Tips For Standard Writing Conventions 

Nursing writing conventions are an essential skill for any nursing professional. These conventions ensure clear, effective, and professional communication in patient documentation, academic writing, or correspondence. Here are some basic tips to help improve your adherence to standard nursing writing conventions:

  • Write in complete sentences: Complete sentences in paragraphs are fundamental to clear communication. Each sentence should have at least one independent clause that includes a subject and a verb and should express a complete thought.
  • Avoid run-on sentences: Run-on sentences can make your writing confusing and hard to follow. To avoid them, keep your sentences concise, use conjunctions appropriately, and break long sentences into shorter ones if necessary.
  • Don’t use fragments: Sentence fragments are incomplete sentences that lack a subject, a verb, or both. It’s important to avoid fragments in formal nursing writing to maintain clarity and professionalism.
  • Write the person’s entire name the first time you mention it: The first time you refer to a patient or a colleague, write their full name. This eliminates any potential confusion and maintains a professional tone. Subsequently, you can use the first or last name as appropriate.
  • Avoid abbreviations: While nursing is rife with abbreviations, it’s best to avoid them in formal writing. If you must use an abbreviation, define it the first time you use it.
  • Consider punctuation marks: Punctuation marks are crucial for conveying the right meaning. Commas, periods, semicolons, and colons each serve a specific purpose. Make sure you’re using them correctly.
  • Put a citation correctly: Proper citation is essential in nursing writing, especially in research papers. Always credit original sources and follow the citation style specified in your guidelines.

Final Thoughts: Writing Conventions

Writing conventions are more than just rules; they are the signposts that guide the reader through the landscape of our thoughts and ideas. While the artistry of writing lies in our ability to craft compelling narratives and powerful arguments, the effectiveness of our writing rests on our understanding and application of these conventions. Mastering these conventions will enhance your credibility as a writer and ensure that your intended message is understood and appreciated by your audience. 

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FAQs About Writing Conventions

What are writing conventions?

Writing conventions are the established norms in English that guide the construction and understanding of written text. They include elements such as grammar, punctuation, spelling, and syntax.

Why are writing conventions important?

Writing conventions are essential as they ensure clarity and coherence in written communication. They lend credibility to the writer, facilitate effective communication of ideas, and create a more engaging reading experience.

How can I master writing conventions?

Mastering writing conventions involves regular practice, wide reading, using writing aids, and seeking feedback on your written work. Understanding the specific conventions of different writing styles can also enhance your writing skills.

Are writing conventions different for different types of writing?

Yes, writing conventions can vary slightly depending on the type of writing. For instance, academic writing requires strict adherence to analytical grammar rules and a formal tone, while creative writing allows more freedom with language.

Do writing conventions matter in digital writing?

Absolutely. Even in digital writing, whether it’s SEO writing or social media posts, proper grammar, spelling, punctuation, and other writing conventions play a key role in creating readable, engaging, and effective content.

Can I ignore writing conventions if I’m writing creatively?

While creative writing allows more flexibility, ignoring conventions can lead to confusion and make your work difficult to read. Therefore, it’s important to ensure coherence and clarity, even when writing creatively.

How do writing conventions affect reader engagement?

Proper use of writing conventions makes the text more readable and understandable, enhancing reader engagement. Readers are more likely to continue reading a well-written piece that follows the established writing norms.

How can writing conventions empower me as a writer?

Understanding and using writing conventions can make your writing clearer, more coherent, and more professional. This can empower you to effectively communicate your ideas, engage your readers, and stand out in your chosen writing field.

Are writing conventions static, or do they evolve?

While the fundamental principles of writing conventions remain stable, they can evolve over time. Changes in language use, cultural norms, and communication modes can all influence how writing conventions are applied.

How can I keep up with changes in writing conventions?

Keeping up with changes in the conventions of writing involves continuous learning. Read widely, participate in writing workshops, subscribe to language and writing blogs, and use updated writing aids to stay abreast of evolving conventions.

Can I be a successful writer if I ignore writing conventions?

Ignoring writing conventions can make your work difficult to understand and decrease your writing credibility. While successful writing involves creativity and originality, it also requires adherence to the established writing norms.

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