University Writing Center Blog

Posted on May 5th, 2020 in Consulting, Language, Pedagogy, Thematics, Writing Center Work by University Writing Center
Not All Mechanics blog featured image

Written by: Hannah W.

Our wonderful consultant Hannah has written a post that relates strongly to the essential mission of the UWC. The overriding goal in our consultations is to help support writers with writing in their own voice with their own ideas, and Hannah helps explain why.

Throughout my life, I have taken part in many different forms of writing. In middle school I focused on writing specifically for my teachers. But once school was out, I honed my imagination, writing down scenarios involving complex characters. In high school, I joined the Newspaper Club. I thought it would be easy because I was an amazing writer. I was very wrong. I was trying to write articles in a creative mindset when my advisor and editors wanted me to be more informative. This was this set of unwritten rules that I had to follow or I wasn’t a good writer. The next year, I became an editor for the newspaper and I did the same thing to writers that my previous editors had done to me. Follow these rules. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. Use a different word here. It wasn’t until college that I realized something that everyone should know: When it comes to writing, there are no rules.

That statement is very controversial and, to some people, frightening. But I’m afraid that it’s true. You might be thinking, “But there are rules. What about fragment sentences and verb usage and i before e and all that?” Those are all actually rules of mechanics- mechanics are concepts such as grammar, spelling, syntax, all that. There is this preconceived notion that mechanics and writing are the same thing, and they really aren’t. In fact, mechanics aren’t even the most important part of writing. 


I know not everyone is going to agree with this, but it’s true. The most important part of writing is actually content. It’s the message. Not having content that is well organized and conveyed makes flawless grammar obsolete. Consultants see this often in the Writing Center. International students will come in looking for help on grammar when their grammar is already great. Because American writers are so obsessed with grammar, our exchange students put too much stock in trying to perfect their own grammar, which can sometimes make the content of a piece suffer. 

An example of this actually came from a childhood friend of mine. She is currently taking a class where the professor concentrates on grammar too much. And this is not an English class. The professor will write in all over my friend’s paper, marking grammar errors and actually changing the wording of the essay. When my friend sent me a picture of her paper, there was a note in blue ink that basically said ‘fix your grammar or drop the class.’ 

As a consultant and English Major, I was horrified to see this. Sure, I’m a nerd and I enjoy learning about the mechanics of writing, but that was too much. Especially since my friend’s paper was lacking a thesis and the professor didn’t even mention it. There was no clear statement about what my friend was writing about and all the professor did was tell her that her word choice was bad.

We need to stop focusing so much on grammar and start teaching people to make sure their arguments are solid. I could write an argumentative essay over “Books vs Movies” and have weak evidence to support my claims and my professor would still take the time to point out that I used the wrong form of ‘your’ or that there’s a typo. 

Your a great writer, and you’re delivery doesn’t change that.