Believe it or not, teachers love marking essays.
They are often proud of the work that their students submit. But they’re sometimes disappointed
by the large number of grammar and other types of error that let down the quality of the
student’s writing. Many of these errors are easy to spot and if the student proofreads
their work before submission they can correct these errors themselves and get a better grade. Ok, let’s have a look at an example shall
we? Gigi has submitted her assignment on the educational value of computer games in schools.
She’s organised the essay well and made some effective points but there are a number of
small and easily correctable problems. Let’s look at the first sentence. Oh yes, this is
common. Can you see the mistake? I’ll give you a clue: find the main verb.
Now consider the tense. Gigi has used the present tense, which we
usually use for things that are generally true, and don’t change. But when giving background
information in an introduction you’re often referring to a recent trend. The present continuous
or present perfect would be more appropriate here. Alright, let’s look at the next sentence.
Good, Gigi’s written a clear aim of the essay, but oh no, there’s another common grammar
mistake. This time the tense is correct but the verb
does not agree with the subject. The subject, “essay” is singular so the verb needs to
be in the third person form. Aims. Right, as well as grammar errors, you need
to check in-text citations. Can you find the in-text citations in paragraph 2? Gigi has
used three different ways to cite the sources, which is effective. But are they done correctly? For the first one, you can see the author’s
family name, Francis, initial and the publication year. But, remember, with in-text citations
the author’s initial should not be used. Let’s look at the next citation. Gigi wants
to quote two authors, Wong and Cheung, using “according to”. So far so good. But then
she adds the words “also agree” in as well, which is wrong. She can either write “Wong
and Cheung (2009) also agree” or “According to Wong and Cheung (2009),” but not both. Let’s have a look at the last citation. It’s
non-integral and the source is cited correctly: just the author’s family name, Watson, and
the publication year in brackets. All well and good. But oh no, Gigi has made another
common error, misuse of the expression: “on the other hand”. “On the other hand” doesn’t
introduce a new topic, but, rather, offers an alternative viewpoint on the same topic.
As this paragraph is only about benefits of using computer games in schools, not drawbacks,
“on the other hand” is misused. Here, Gigi would be better using “furthermore”, or “in addition”. OK, let’s move on, shall we? Ahhh, can you
see the mistake here? Gigi has confused there T-H-E-R-E with their T-H-E-I-R. Ok, it’s an easy mistake to make and Microsoft Word spell-check won’t help because, out of context,
both spellings are correct. “From” F-R-O-M and “form” and F-O-R-M is another common
spelling mistake that computers just can’t catch. This is why you must always check the
spellings yourself. Ok, let’s look at a few style errors shall
we? Ahh, can you see this one? Look at the way the sentence ends. Gigi has used etc.
which teachers call a run-on expression. These run on expressions should not be used in academic
essay writing. You should also consider style when you are
quoting someone. Gigi has used the word “said” to report someone’s findings. There are much
more precise words than that: She could have used “noted” or “found”. Let’s look at the next sentence. Here Gigi
is being too certain. Can you see the word that makes that sentence too certain? She’s
written “always”. It is difficult to prove that students always ignore other important activities.
If you cannot prove this, you need to hedge this claim and a commonly used structure for
doing this is “might” or “tend to”. Gigi is too certain again at the end at the
end of the essay. She’s used the word “easily”. In this case it’s better to use expressions
like “has the potential to”, or words like “possibly”. Let’s move on. Look at the final point in
the essay and how Gigi introduces us to it. Oh no, it’s this error again. The phrase
“at last” is not suitable here. It’s not the same as “lastly”. When we use “At last”
we mean that we’ve been waiting a considerable length of time for something to happen …
for example “What a boring lecture. At last it’s over!” So, in this paragraph “at
last” is wrong. Instead, you can use “Finally” or “Lastly” to link your ideas. Let’s carry on, shall we? Ah, there’s another,
common mistake. Can you see it? Gigi has used a noun (violence) where she should have used
an adjective (violent). Always check carefully that you are using the right word forms. Ok, so we are finished now, and the essay
looks much better. All of those were simple errors which Gigi could have found easily.
By spending some time to proofread her work, she would have got a better grade. A useful
tool I can let you know about is the Common Error Detector on the CILL website. Simply
paste your essay into the box, click Submit, and it will highlight many of these common
errors. How simple is that?! Here’s the address for it. OK, so remember, take pride in what you do,
spend a little time to proofread your work and see if you can spot these types of error.
You’ll get a better grade and you’ll make your teacher happy.