Below are common editing issues for many students we have worked with. In general, we recommend taking note of mistakes that you find yourself making frequently. Denote these errors by underlining or highlighting them. The most common errors we find writers making are grammatical or spelling errors, run-on sentences, comma splices, or sentence fragments. Learning how to spot these errors by underlining or highlighting will help you proofread more efficiently in the future. At a certain point, spotting these errors will be a matter of muscle memory.
Do not solely rely on your word processor's spell-check -- it will not catch everything!
Be careful of two words that have similar spellings but different meanings that can be mistakenly typed in your essay. For example, peruse and pursue, affect and effect, accept and except,
Be careful of words that contain tricky letter combinations, like "ei/ie” and “iu/ui”.
Take special care with homonyms like your/you're, to/too/two, see/sea, site/sight/cite, and there/their/they're, as most spell checks will not recognize these as errors.
Sentence fragments are parts of a sentence that are not grammatically whole sentences. Make sure each sentence has a subject and a complete verb. And make sure each sentence has an independent clause. Remember that a dependent clause cannot stand on its own.
“Looked at the Peninsula Academy blog.” is a sentence fragment without a subject.
“The students looked at the Peninsula Academy blog.” Adding the subject “students” makes it a complete sentence.
“They trying to improve their application essays.” is an incomplete sentence because “trying” is an incomplete verb.
“They were trying to improve their application essays.” In this sentence, “were” is necessary to make “trying” a complete verb.
“Which is why the students read all of PA’s blog posts.” This is a dependent clause that needs an independent clause. As of right now, it is a sentence fragment.
“Students knew they were going to be applying for college, which is why they read all of PA’s blog posts.” The first part of the sentence, “Students knew they were going to be applying for college,” is an independent clause. Pairing it with a dependent clause makes this example a complete sentence.
Word Omission and Doubled Words
Read your work slowly aloud to ensure you haven't missed or repeated any words. As an added tip, try reading your paper in reverse -- this will enable you to focus on the individual sentences.
Review sentences to determine whether they contain more than one independent clause. If there is more than one independent clause, check to make sure the clauses are separated by the appropriate punctuation. Sometimes, it is just as effective to break the sentence into two separate sentences instead of including punctuation to separate the clauses.
Run on: “I have to answer a Personal Insight Question for my UC application about leadership all I have to rely on is my Vice-President position in Chess Club.” These are two independent clauses without any punctuation or conjunctions separating the two.
Edited version: "I have to answer a Personal Insight Question for my UC application about leadership, and all I have to rely on is my Vice-President position in Chess Club." The two bolded portions are independent clauses. They are connected by the appropriate conjunction “and,” and a comma.
Another edited version: “I have to answer a Personal Insight Question for my UC application about leadership. All I have to rely on is my Vice-President position in Chess Club.” In this case, these two independent clauses are separated into individual sentences separated by a period and capitalization.
Examine sentences that have commas with care. Determine if the sentence contains two independent clauses. Independent clauses are complete sentences. If there are two independent clauses, they should be connected with a comma and a conjunction, for example, and, but, for, or, so (in the sense of “as a result”), yet, nor, and as (in the sense of “because”) . Commas are not needed for some subordinating conjunctions (because, since, while, etc.) because these conjunctions are used to combine dependent and independent clauses. Now, a comma should be used to separate two clauses when the clause begun by the subordinating conjunction comes first. Another option is to take out the comma and insert a semicolon instead.
Comma Splice: “I would like to write my application essay about creativity, it's a topic I can talk about at length.” The bolded portions are independent clauses. A comma alone is not sufficient to connect them.
Edited version: “I would like to write my application essay about creativity because it's a topic I can talk about at length.” Here, the first bolded portion is an independent clause while the second bolded portion is a dependent clause. The subordinating conjunction “because” connects these two clauses. In some context, you should still use a comma before “because” if there could be confusion without it.
Edited version, using a semicolon: “I would like to write my application essay about creativity; it’s a topic I can talk about at length.” Here, a semicolon connects two similar independent clauses.
Read through your sentences to make sure it doesn’t start with one structure, and end up with another. This is called mixed sentence construction.
Mixed construction: “Since I have a lot of homework to do is why I can't catch a movie” Both bold and underlined sections of the sentence are dependent clauses. Two dependent clauses do not make a complete sentence.
Edited version: “Since I have a lot of homework to do, I can't go out tonight.” The bold portion is a dependent clause while the underlined is an independent clause. Thus, this example is a complete sentence.
The subject and verb should match in count, meaning that if the subject is plural, the verb should be as well. If the subject is singular, the verb should be as well. Find the subject of each sentence, then find the verb that goes with the subject. An easy way to do this is to underline all subjects. Then, circle or highlight the verbs one at a time and see if they match.
Look through your essays for series of items, usually separated by commas, and make sure these items are in parallel form, meaning they all use the same form.
Example: “Being a good tennis player involves coordinating, to be quick, and that you know how to compete.” In this example, “coordinating” is in its present tense, “to be” is in the infinitive form, and “that you know how to compete” is a sentence fragment. These items in the series do not match up.
Edited version: “Being a good tennis player involves coordinating, being quick, and knowing how to compete.” In this example, “coordinating,” “being,” and “knowing” are all in the present continuous (-ing endings) tense. They are in parallel form.
A pronoun is a word that is used instead of a noun. Pronouns are used to avoid repeating the same nouns over and over again. For example, boy/he, Rachel’s/hers, students/they. However, since pronouns and nouns are very similar, using pronouns can sometimes lead to confusion. When editing your essays, search for pronouns, then search for nouns that the pronoun replaces. If you can't find any nouns, insert one beforehand or change the pronoun to a noun. If you can find a noun, be sure it agrees in number and person with your pronoun.
“Shane had spent all day playing video games. He didn’t do much else.” Here, it is clear that Shane is the “he” referred to in the second sentence. Thus, the singular third person pronoun, “he,” matches with Shane.
“Tom and Alex caught some fish. The fish splashed him.” In this case, it is unclear who the fish splashed because the pronoun, “him,” could refer to either Tom or Alex.
“Tom and Alex caught some fish. Later, they splashed them.” Here, the third person plural pronoun, “them,” matches the nouns that precede it. It’s clear that the fish splashed both people.
“Tom and Alex caught some fish. Tom unhooked a fish, and the fish splashed him.” In these sentences, it is assumed that Tom is the “him” in the second sentence because his name directly precedes the singular pronoun, “him.”
Apostrophe is a punctuation mark (’) used to indicate either possession (e.g., Jack's book; children's coats ) or the omission of letters or numbers (e.g., can't ; he's ; class of ’99 ). Apostrophes can be incorrectly left out or spelled. Search your paper for words which end in "s." If the "s" is used to indicate possession, there should be an apostrophe, as in “Max's car.” Look over the contractions, like “can’t” for “can not,” “you're” for “you are,” “it's” for “it is,” etc. Each of these should include an apostrophe. Remember that apostrophes are not used to make words plural. When making a word plural, only an "s" is added, not an apostrophe and an "s."
“It’s a good day for an early breakfast.” This sentence is correct because “it’s” can be replaced with “it is.”
“That bird up there is a hawk. See its wings?” In this case, “its” is a pronoun describing the noun, “bird.” Because it is a pronoun, no apostrophe is needed.
“Max’s car won’t start.” Here, Max needs an apostrophe because the noun is a possessive one. The apostrophe tells the reader that Max owns the car.