I was looking over some rough drafts recently; they were documents written by folks who are juniors and seniors in college. I was shocked. Let me share some of the issues I found.
First, there is a difference between parts of speech. Some students don’t know a verb from a noun. When I ask them to make sure all of the bullet points within a given the section of a paper begin with the same part of speech, they don’t know an article (a, an, the) from a verb (catch, jump, fly) from a noun (paper, book, couch). If you want to have the same part of speech for all of the bullet points, try looking at endings (having, practicing, doing). What action is happening? That’s the verb. What’s the action being done upon? There’s a good chance that’s the noun.
Second, make sure you have the right form of the word (not the write form of the word, for example). Some students say they proofread before they submit. They have told me that they prove read, poof read, prove reed, or poofread. Nope, they didn’t. Also, when you write that you have an overabundance of something, you do not have “to much.” You have “too much.” Think of it this way: you have an extra “o,” so you have too much.
Third, don’t be wordy, thinking that you will impress me. I have a Ph.D. You can’t impress me by using words that I need a dictionary to understand. This is written flatulence, as one of my colleagues is fond of saying. Students love to use the word “within” when the word “in” is correct. They feel it’s more impressive, I guess. Most of the time, however, it is simply the wrong word. Ninety percent of the time, with the documents my students are composing, “within” is used in error. Heaven forbid!
Finally, where are periods and other punctuation? I know that many people don’t use them when texting, but the assignment is to write a formal essay or business document. Where is your punctuation, my friend? Periods have escaped the essay, commas are either used abundantly (and incorrectly) or there is a dearth of them, and semi-colons do double-duty to replace commas and colons.
Teachers, I would love to hear about your all-time favorite mistake.