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Identifying the Most Common Errors Study

In 2006, SSU’s Composition Oversight Committee was granted a mini-grant from the Assessment Office to study surface errors in student writing. The Committee believed that determining the most common errors in student writing would be helpful to both writing instructors and writing center tutors because a list of common errors could help these individuals decide what to focus on when teaching editing and proofreading skills. The list could also be given to students to use as a proofreading checklist. Therefore, the Committee collected and analyzed a representative sample of papers written by students enrolled in English 096 (now 0096), 111, and 112 (two of the three composition classes required of SSU students under the quarter system).

Methods

The Composition Oversight Committee developed a grid to use for tracking student errors. Then the Committee read one 112 paper together and charted all of the errors on the grid. Because some errors that occurred in the 112 paper were not on the original grid, the committee revised the grid. Then the members of the committee divided up the remaining 74 sample papers (25 from each course). At least two members of the committee read and analyzed each paper. The readers compared their analyses to see if they had any discrepancies. When discrepancies appeared, the readers discussed them and decided how to chart the errors in question, sometimes bringing in a third reader to be arbitrator.

Results

The following chart lists all of the errors in order of frequency. It also compares the ranking of SSU student error to the results of a national study of student error conducted by Andrea Lunsford in 2006.

Error Rank in SSU Student Writing Rank in Lunsford's "Top 20" (2006 National Study)
Comma error 1 2, 7, 11, 13,
Pronoun error 2 4, 17
Spelling error (including homophone) 3 5
Wrong word 4 1
Capitalization error 5 8
Missing word 6 9
Sentence boundary error 7 15, 16
Unnecessary words 8 included in 10
Quotation mark error 9 included in 6
Unnecessary tense shift 10 12
Apostrophe error 11 14
Hyphen error 12 19
Subject-verb agreement 13 NA
Idiomatic error 14 included in 1
Period error 15 (tie) many included in 6
Subject and object agreement 15 (tie) NA
Verb errors (wrong/missing inflected ending; wrong/missing auxiliary) 17 NA
Modifier problem 18 NA
Underlining/italicizing error 19 many included in 6
Faulty parallelism 20 NA
Semicolon error 21 NA
Other (including parentheses errors and dash errors) 22 NA
Colon error 23 (tie) NA
Question mark error 23 (tie) some included in 6
Double negative 25 (tie) NA
Transposition 25 (tie) NA

The fact that the Composition Oversight Committee used slightly different categories than did Lunsford may account for many of the differences between the two studies. For example, the Committee decided to group all sentence boundary errors (comma splices, run-ons, and fragments) together instead of listing them separately. Had the Committee kept these three types of sentence boundary errors separate, only comma splices would have appeared on the Top Ten; run-ons and fragments would have been numbers 20 and 22 respectively.

Writing Center

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Writing Center
Clark Memorial Library Room 120 

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