Most Common Formal Errors

Here is a checklist of the most common formal errors found in college writing. These are the kinds of surface errors in punctuation, usage, mechanics, and grammar that we want to give our attention to when editing. This list was compiled by the Washington College Writing Center and dervied from research done by Andrea Lunsford and Robert Connors. One effective way to use a list like this is to identify a few that look familiar (issues you know you have) and work on them, read more into them [at the bottom of this post, there are two resources you can consult, in additon to a text like Hacker Writer’s Reference], rather than try to take on all 20 at once.

  1. Wrong word
  2. Missing comma after an introductory element
  3. Incomplete or missing documentation
  4. Vague pronoun reference
  5. Spelling error (including homonyms: there/their, etc)
  6. Mechanical error with a quotation
  7. Unnecessary comma
  8. Unnecessary or missing capitalization
  9. Missing word
  10. Faulty sentence structure
  11. Missing comma with a nonrestrictive element
  12. Unnecessary shift in verb tense
  13. Missing comma in a compound sentence
  14. Unnecessary or missing apostrophe (its/it’s)
  15. Fused (run-on) sentence
  16. Comma splice
  17. Lack of pronoun-antecedent agreement
  18. Poorly integrated quotation
  19. Unnecessary of missing hyphen
  20. Sentence fragment


Two electronic resources you might consult for examples and information regarding these and other kinds of errors:

The Guide to Grammar and Writing (use the index to look up the error).

Common Errors in English (a boatload of them, including a surprising listing of non-errors)

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2 Comments on “Most Common Formal Errors”

  1. […] a few of the mechanical/surface errors you tend to make and will need to clean up. You can use this list of the 20 most common formal errors that can be edited–list provided by the Writing […]

  2. […] can use this list of the 20 most common formal errors that can be edited–list provided by the Writing […]


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