Common Errors and Solutions
This handout shows some of the most common assessment marks on graded essays, and how you can correct them. Use this page as a key for understanding your own graded essays as well as for assessing your peers’ drafts when working in a writing group.
If your instructor says....
you could choose more clear, specific, direct, and efficient wording to express this thought
"Keep verb tenses consistent"
means that you have switched tenses within this section or paragraph, without a clear reason for doing so
"Unclear wording/sentence structure"
means that your wording or your sentence structure is obscuring what you want to say
means that you need to choose more specific wording to express this thought clearly
means that you’ve chosen wording that might sound or look like what you intended, but is actually an incorrect term; also could refer to word choice that is incompatible with the level of formality you have established in the essay (e.g., using a highly informal or slang term in a formal paper)
means that your sentence could be put together in a more efficient, clear, and organized way
means that you could choose more precise wording that says what you mean more exactly, directly, and efficiently
means that your sentence or paragraph is starting to wander away from its original focus, and it’s taking a lot of words to do so
means that you need to lead into this next sentence or point more smoothly, in part by using transitional words to indicate that we’re moving on or to show how the next point is related to the previous one
"Avoid passive voice"
means that you need to use the active voice instead of the passive, so that it’s clear who is completing the action/who is in control
means that you could eliminate some unnecessary words and still make your point just as (or even more) clearly
means that your paragraph needs to be rearranged into a more logical order, that your sentences are not clearly connected to one another and moving your discussion forward, or that your material could be grouped into several separate paragraphs to increase coherence
"Needs tighter focus"
means that your essay tends to stray from its main thesis or compositional plan, and that you need to make sure that all of your points relate to that controlling idea
"Sentences not clearly connected"
means that the sentences within your paragraph don’t have an obvious relationship in terms of the point you’re making; perhaps some transitional words are missing, or the sentences need to be regrouped or rearranged, or even some of them eliminated
"Tell me more"
means this is an interesting idea, but you haven’t told me enough about it; I want to hear more!. You will need to further develop this idea - add analysis, examples, and/or additional evidence to completely round out this thought.
"Be more specific"
means that you’re onto something here, but you need to show me more explicit or concrete examples for it to be fully convincing
"Finish the thought"
means that you’ve almost developed your idea fully, but you’ve left off the last part; you’ve made it clear where we’re heading, but you leave the conclusion unstated
means that this idea is interesting, but you need to give more information to make it clearer
"Develop this further"
means that you’ve got a good line on a very important point, but you need to push your thoughts further and explore the implications of what you’ve said
means that your subject and your verb do not agree in number (single subject takes a single verb, plural subject takes a plural verb)
Error: (he walk)
Correction: (he walks)
Error: they has
Correction: they have
means that your subject and the subsequent pronoun do not agree in number (e.g., “the author”… “they”—should be “the author”… “s/he”; “the students”…”they”)
Error: The store said they were offering 50% off.
Correction: The store employees said they were offering 50% off.
Error: The farmers told me she was tired of sheering sheep.
Correction: The farmer told me she was tired of sheering sheep.
means that you have separated the two parts of the infinitive form of the verb, which always should stay together
Error: to quickly go
Correction: to go quickly
Error: to really want
Correction: really to want
means that you have left a clause or a phrase to stand alone as a sentence
Error: Because he wanted to go. Really badly.
Correction: Because he wanted to go really badly, he paid $3000 for the ticket.
means that you have joined two complete sentences with a comma instead of separating them with a period or a semi-colon
Error: I like milk, it’s really good to drink.
Correction 1: I like milk. It's really good to drink.
Correction 2: I like milk; it's really good to drink.
Corretion 3: I like milk because it's really good to drink.
means that you have combined two complete sentences instead of separating them with the appropriate “stop” punctuation (usually a period or a semi-colon)
Error: The room was decorated perfectly the furniture added a softness to the otherwise minimalist walls.
Correction: The room was decorated perfectly. The furniture added a softness to the otherwise minimalist walls.
"Keep s and v together"
means that you have separated your subject and your verb, usually with a descriptive word or phrase
Error: We, since the weather is so nice, want to go to the park.
Correction: Since the weather is so nice, we want to go to the park.)
means that you’ve constructed a series of clauses differently within the same sentence; use the same verb forms or phrase structures for all elements of the sentence
Error: When he felt confident, he was very happy; when feeling insecure, he was miserable.
Correction: When he felt confident, he was very happy; when he felt insecure, he was miserable.)
Error: At Eddie's birthday party, we ate cake, ice cream, and played Twister.
Correction 1: At Eddie's birthday party, we ate cake and ice cream and played Twister.
Correction 2: At Eddie's birthday party, we ate cake, ate ice cream, and played Twister.
means that you have placed a clause or a phrase so that it appears to modify or describe something besides what you intend
Error: You can call your mother and tell her about buying all your textbooks for this semester for only 60 cents.
Correction: For only 60 cents, you can call your mother and tell her about buying all your textbooks for this semester.