Common Writing Errors

Common Writing Errors

By the time you graduate from college, you should have the ability to write effective analytical and research papers free of basic grammatical and punctuation errors. What follows is a list of common “surface” writing errors. Some of them might be caught by your software’s spell-check and grammar-check tools. But there is no substitution for old-fashioned proofreading. Even better, read your work aloud and/or have someone else read your work.

Spelling and Capitalization
Avoid the following mixups: their, there, they’re; accept, except; who’s, whose; its, it’s; your, you’re; affect, effect; than, then; quite, quiet; woman, women
Catch misspellings/misuses that look correct to spell-check
Catch errant uses of capitalization and capitalize where appropriate

Misplaced commas
Misused apostrophes
Improper use of quotation marks
Misused colons or semicolons

Sentence structure
Comma splice; fused or run-on sentences
Sentence fragments
Subject-verb non-agreement

Word usage
Misuse of word
Confusion of I/me, we/us, they/them, etc.
Subject/Verb agreement
Pronoun/Verb agreement

Quoting and citing
Improper use of block quote format
Unintegrated quote
Improper or inconsistent citations
Use of citation style other than APA

Verb tense shift
Double negatives
Nonparallel sentence construction



1. Spelling mix-up:

This crackdown disproportionately targeted youth in certain areas since police were likely to assume that their involved in gang activity.

Correction: Replace “their” with “they’re.”

2. Misspellings:

Other stringent laws include tresspassing and defacating public property. Since these youth are homeless, they are much more likely to commit these acts.

Correction: Replace “tresspassing” with “trespassing” and “defacating” with “defacing.”

3. Miscapitalized words:
Race and Class issues in the U.S. are as old as our country’s history.
Correction: Replace “Class” with “class.”

4. Misplaced comma:
Centered around the idea of a moral panic, this latest explosion of concern, can be explained by the politics of morality, conflict, and social control. Groups with more power are better able to mobilize resources, and can therefore more easily label a particular behavior as deviant.

Correction: In the first sentence, delete comma after “concern.” In the second sentence, delete comma after “mobilize resources.” Note: Only use a comma before “but,” “and,” or “or ” if what follows can stand alone as a sentence. The exception to this rule is that a comma can be used if listing three or more things in a series (as in the first sentence, with “morality, conflict, and social control”).

5. Misused apostrophe: Hubert Blalock (1967) is famous for his power threat theory, which says that white’s feel threatened when a minority group is growing, and so they want to respond with legal control to maintain their dominant status.

Correction: Delete the apostrophe in “white’s.”

6. Misused semicolon:

Class-based bias in the legal system is not intentional; but unfortunately shows how money can talk in today’s society.

Correction: Delete the semicolon.

7. Fused or run-on sentence:

Today’s criminal justice system is very complex, and many individuals trying to understand all its different aspects have a difficult time, if you do not have someone in the system or you do not have prior knowledge of it you might not see all the hidden secrets that lie within.

Correction: Replace the comma after “difficult time” with a period, and capitalize “If” to start a new sentence. Insert a comma after “knowledge of it.”

8. Sentence fragment:
Police Chief Fred Lau commented that “people deserve to live in an environment that’s safe”. Implying that homeless people promote an unsafe environment.

Correction: Replace period after “safe” with a comma (which goes inside the quotes) to merge the fragment into the first sentence.

9. Subject-verb non-agreement:
Being in a lower class also makes it harder for him/her to afford legal help if he/she do get charged with a crime.

Correction: Replace “him/her” with “one” and “do” with “does.”
10. Misuse of word:
It is based on the families to raise children and provide a sense of balance between right and wrong.

Correction: Replace the words “based on” with “the responsibility of.”

11. Confusion of I/me, we/us, they/them, etc.:
As he handed my friend and I our transfers, the bus driver gave us a weird look.

Correction: Replace “I” with “me.”

12. Unembedded quote:

In the criminal justice system, the prosecution’s role is widely debated. “After studying 33,000 felony cases from Los Angeles, Cassia Spohn and two colleagues found prosecutors much more likely to dismiss charges against white defendants than against African-American or Hispanic defendants” (Barkan, 480).

Correction: Before the quote at the start of the second sentence, insert the words (and parenthetical citation and comma) “As Barkan (2003:480) notes,” and eliminate the citation at the end of the sentence. The sentence will now read: As Barkan (2003:480) notes, “After studying 33,000 felony cases from Los Angeles, Cassia Spohn and two colleagues found prosecutors much more likely to dismiss charges against white defendants than against African-American or Hispanic defendants.”

13. Improper citation:
“I think that historically there’s a tendency for African-Americans to be portrayed negatively [in the news],” Harris said. “If you’re able to look at it, then you’re able to correct it.” (Faulk)

Correction: Insert parenthetic citation of year and page number after “Harris.” Introduce quote in second sentence so it’s not unembedded, include year and page number after the name “Faulk,” and move the period so it follows the parentheses. The second sentence will now read: Some argue, “if you’re able to look at it, then you’re able to correct it” (Faulk 1994:367).

14. Verb tense shift:
Therefore, I concluded that Marx will think the Patriot Act is a tool to suppress the lower class.

Correction: Change “concluded” to “conclude,” “will think” to “would have thought that,” and “is” with “was.”

15. Double negatives:
I had never seen nothing as frightening as the looks on the inmates’ faces.

Correction: Replace “nothing” with “anything.”

16. Repetition: During lecture, Professor Smith mentioned that instability drives suicide. The lack of stability drives suicide.

Correction: Delete the second sentence.

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