All writers are concerned with form to one degree or another. At the elementary and secondary levels, the focus of writing instruction often is on simply producing complete sentences, correct spelling, and correct punctuation. More complex matters related to organization, content, and purpose are ignored or treated inadequately. A focus on form generally involves a reliance on rules to explain to students what writing is about. These rules can come to regulate every aspect of writing, such as spelling, the number of paragraphs that make an essay, sentence length, and so on. In some classes, the consequences for violating these rules are dire. A misplaced comma or a misspelled word has been enough to earn more than a few students an F on a given assignment.
Accuracy and correctness in form are important. Also, classroom experiences can be trying, as when a student asks for the 20th time why commas and periods go inside quotation marks rather than outside. It is just easier to tell them, “Because that's the rule!” Nevertheless, we need to keep in mind that a large part of what people do with writing is governed by conventions—conventions of spelling, genre, and punctuation. Rules too commonly are understood as laws, which they are not. Conventions are quite arbitrary and therefore changeable. At any point it would be possible to hold a punctuation conference of teachers, writers, and publishers to adopt some alternative to what writers currently use.
Several rules are not matters of convention but rather are outright myths. They seem to get passed on from teacher to student year after year. This appendix is intended to summarize and discuss a few of the more egregious writing myths that nearly everyone has received as absolute truth.