5 Common Writing Errors College Students Make — and How to Fix Them

5 Common Writing Errors College Students Make — and How to Fix Them

5 Common Writing Errors College Students Make — and How to Fix Them banner

As the Student Writing Support Specialist for Johnson & Wales University’s College of Online Education, I work with both graduate and undergraduate learners on advancing their writing skills. My job includes crafting thesis statements, developing arguments, ensuring APA and MLA formatting guidelines have been met, and more!

Here are five common grammatical errors I see when reviewing student work, and tips for how you can correct them in your own writing:

1. Putting commas where they don’t belong

Simply put, a “comma splice” occurs when a comma is placed where a period should be, without a coordinating conjunction to follow. This causes a sentence to run on, making it confusing to read.

Incorrect:Jimmy likes to take cream and sugar with his coffee, when he drinks it warm, he also likes it black.

How you can fix it: Try adding in a conjunction. In this example, I chose “and.”

Correct: Jimmy likes to take cream and sugar with his coffee, and when he drinks it warm, he likes it black.

2. Using “you” and “I” in formal assignments

Maintaining a formal tone while writing helps to establish your respect for your audience and to suggest that you are serious about your topic. Almost all of academic writing uses a formal tone, and this can be jeopardized if you use first-person pronouns (I, me, my, we, us). Using these pronouns in analytical writing can make the writing wordy and you appear less confident in your ideas.

How you can fix it: In order to maintain formality, try avoiding first-person pronouns. Readers will know that the arguments presented are yours. Try using “one” or “a person” in place of “I” or “we.”

Secondly, and more importantly, avoid the second person pronoun, “you.” Using this can bring assumptions into a piece that are simply not true. When you use the second person pronoun, you are assuming that the reader is the one to whom an action refers. Or, possibly, the one who should be performing an action

Incorrect: You already know that the world is round.

Correct: Most people already know that the world is round.

3. Missing the mark on subject-verb agreement error

The verb in a sentence should always agree with its subject in number, no matter if the verb comes before the subject.

How you can fix it: In order to ensure proper subject-verb agreement, you must first correctly identify the subject.

Incorrect: One of the men who live in the trailers want to move to a house.

What is the actual subject here? “One,” which is a singular subject, and therefore requires a singular verb.

Correct: One of the men who live in the trailers wants to move to a house.

4. Confusing pronoun agreement error

A great example of pronoun agreement error is, “Everyone is entitled to their opinion.” This is incorrect because “everyone” is singular and “their” is plural.

How you can fix it: Keep in mind that singular indefinite pronoun antecedents take singular pronoun referents. Some singular indefinite pronouns include: each, either, neither, one, no one, nobody, anyone, anything, someone, and everyone.

Incorrect: Each of the clerks does a good deal of work around their office.

Correct: Each (singular pronoun) does a good deal of work around his or her office (singular referent).

One last thing to remember here: When the object is uncountable, use a singular referent pronoun. When the object is countable, use a plural referent pronoun.

Example 1: Some of the sugar fell out of its bag. (Since sugar is uncountable; “its” is singular)

Example 2: Some of the marbles fell out of their bag. (Marbles are countable; “their” is plural)

5. Misusing the “-ing” form of a verb

The -ing form of a verb is technically called the present participle. The most common verb abused here is “to be,” which is often conjugated as “being.” In proper grammar, it should be conjugated as “is” or “who.”

Incorrect: He argued all day long. The point being important.

Correct: “He argued all day long, as his point was important.”

How you can fix it: Let’s review participles to figure out why we misuse “to be.” A participle is a verb pretending to be an adjective. Usually, this is a verb in its -ing form. For example, the word “run” is normally a verb, but add an -ing ending and it can become an adjective. So, when you say, “I run every morning,” it’s a verb. But, it can also be an adjective: “I forgot my running shoes this morning.” The word run went from verb to adjective, which also forms your present participle.

Ask yourself if you’re using the present participle either as an adjective or as a verbal noun. In the latter case, we refer to it as a gerund. In the above example, “the point being important” is an absolute phrase, which is an attempt to use a participle in the place of a clause or sentence.

For even more tips and strategies, please visit my JWU Online student writing support website, and reach out if you need help!

To learn more about the Johnson & Wales University College of Online Education and how one of our degree programs can help further your career, complete the Request Info form on this page or call 855-JWU-1881 or email [email protected].

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