32 4. Major Writing Errors
You may be familiar with the English teacher who uses more red ink on papers than on a freshly painted barn, pointing out every grammatical error a student may have made. First of all, I don’t use red pens. Second, I like to point out grammatical errors, but I don’t correct them. I leave that up to you. And as we go through the course, I will point out fewer and fewer errors (meaning you might be making fewer, or I am requiring you to start finding them).
There are, in this complicated language, hundreds and hundreds of potential grammatical errors. Who wants to cover every single one of them??? As we go through the course and I see specific problems arising, I may include some special assignments on grammar, but for the most part, I am going to rely on you to use your handbook, to ask me questions or to get help in the writing lab for grammatical problems you are having.
With that said, I want to list the top seven grammatical errors I have found students making over the years. I call these the “Seven Egregious Errors in Student Writing.” I believe these are the kinds of mistakes that weaken papers tremendously: they either create confusion because the reader doesn’t know what you are trying to say, or they weaken validity because the reader is going to question your content if you don’t take the time to write correctly. Here they are:
- Spelling (Sp). You don’t have to be a good speller, but you must spell correctly. Spell check helps, but sometimes you might have to refer to another resource (a dictionary) to help you spell.
- Misuse of words (WW). This can mean you’ve chosen a word that doesn’t mean what you think it means, or you’ve chosen the wrong word for what you are saying. Believe it or not, there is a big difference between the verbs hanged and hung. Do you know what it is?
- Agreement (Agr). This can be either subject-verb agreement or noun-pronoun agreement. Just like nouns, verbs are singular and plural. They have to match when used together (John run to the store is wrong- John runs to the store is correct). Pronouns take the place of nouns- you have to use singular pronouns for singular nouns and plural pronouns for plural nouns.
- Verb usage (Vb). I separate this from misuse of words because verbs are so important in writing. They make the writing interesting, exciting and informative. You have to use correct verb tense, and you have to choose active verbs most of the time.
- Sentence fragments (frag). Sentences need three things: Subject, verb and a complete thought. There are many problems that can cause a sentence to be incomplete. Sometimes reading aloud can help determine if it’s a complete thought.
- Run-on (R-O) sentences and Comma Splices (CS). These are kind of like the opposite of fragments. You can’t have more than one main idea in a sentence without some kind of supporting punctuation or language. This is one of the biggest errors I traditionally find.
- Semi-colon (;). I didn’t include commas in this list. Comma misuse is common, but I think misusing a semi-colon has a stronger impact. Semi-colons have a specific purpose. Trying to impress people by using lots of semi-colons tends to weaken and slow down writing tremendously.
This is an introductory list, not a grammar lesson on all these items. If you have any questions about grammatical problems you’re having, let me know. I will try to help you correct them. Use that handbook as well. You can find any of these egregious errors (did anyone look that word up?) easily your handbook. We will work with them somewhat as we go along.