Form Informs Content

Form informs content. I always assumed this means that the form in which something is written intones the type of writing; poetry has a specific form, essays conform to a different style, and so forth. That all made sense. But apparently I missed the most important point in all of this; form supersedes content. If a perceived correct form is not practiced, then content becomes irrelevant. And here, form, takes on its most basic meaning. It is not overall structure, or literary awareness, but reduced to the usage of proper punctuation. One mislaid comma, or worse, dash or semi colon, completely derails an argument. It becomes so distracting it no longer matters what is being said as the focus is shifted from the writing to the mechanics of writing. Or, the choices engaged when creating these mechanics.

There is a school of thought that has somehow decided which punctuation marks are appropriate, while the rest are “unnecessary” or “pretentious.” I completely understand the criticism if these punctuation marks are being misused. In which case, please let me know. But to eliminate them from writing altogether simply because they are somehow deemed inferior sounds absolutely ridiculous. In fact, after all the rules have been taken into account, I am left with the comma and the period, with an occasional colon or perhaps question mark. The latter two are generally useless most of the time, and the former are great, but if used too often can produce either short, truncated, choppy sentences, or complete run-ons that never seem to end.

Why can’t I just have every valid form of punctuation at my disposal and then moderated for propriety? If I go overboard, or misuse something, let me know. If I continuously do it, grade me down. And while you are doing it, feel free to comment on the content parallel to the form.

While everyone is in a tizzy counting my commas, I would actually like to know if my argument works, and whether I read the text correctly.


  1. That sort of nitpicky stuff is fine for undergrad, but I can name off the top of my head dozens of English professors and professional writers who rely heavily upon editors because they can’t spell or punctuate properly. There should be an emphasis on professionalization in a Master’s degree program, and part of that is learning, practically, that there are bigger concerns to have than commas.

    Anyway, to end on a positive note with two of my favorite quotes:

    “Form is never more than an extension of content.” –Robert Creeley to Charles Olson

    “Form follows function.” –Frank Lloyd Wright

  2. Barring some terrible misfortune, I have every intention of going (back) to a real university.

    And Sean, I like the second quote a lot 🙂

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