Error Analysis in Writing

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					                         Error Analysis in Writing
Initial error marking

Error pattern analysis starts with the teacher or editor identifying errors.

   1. If at all possible, make a photocopy of the piece of writing. You need to have
      a copy you can mark up, and it's disconcerting for writers to see all the
      markings you'll make as you get started with the analysis.

   2. Read through a paragraph or a page without marking anything just to get a
      feel for the number and range of errors. Depending on the number, decide if
      you can mark all errors in one pass or if you'll need multiple passes.

   3. Go through the first paragraph slowly, marking as many errors as you can
      find. Ignore stylistic choices but note word choices that are wrong. Ditto with

Checking Error Marking

   4. Go back through paragraph 1 looking for additional errors. You will almost
      certainly find one or two. If you find more than that, assume that you'll have
      work in multiple passes to identify all the errors.

   5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 for the next paragraph.

   6. Now that you're sure about how many passes through the text you'll need to
      spot all the errors, continue to mark all the errors you can find through at
      least two full pages of the text.

Clustering errors into patterns

   7. Take quick stock of the kinds of errors that you've found. Cluster errors into
      groups--word choice, sentence punctuation (fragments, comma splices, run-
      ons), sentence structure (sentence appears to start in one direction and ends
      up somewhere else), agreement, reference, modification (misplaced words
      and phrases), internal punctuation (comma use, dashes, apostrophes),
      spelling, idiomatic lapses, missing or misused articles.

   8. Read through the remaining text to see if you spot new kinds of errors and
      mark those. Don't mark exhaustively any of the categories you've already

      Ranking errors to edit

      Now comes the tricky part--moving from grossly identifying error into setting
      up a plan to teach students how to edit for those errors. My rule of thumb is
      to start with the errors that are most confusing or distracting for readers--
sentence punctuation, subject-verb agreement, and garbled sentence
structure. Especially with native speakers who are inexperienced or basic
writers, these are most likely to be the errors that mark them as ineffective
writers. Native speakers trying to impress readers with a big vocabulary are
most likely to have word-choice and spelling errors, but they may also
misuse semicolons; of these, the word-choice and sentence-punctuation
errors are the most significant. For non-native speakers, subject-verb
agreement, verb tense, and article errors are typically the most noticeable
and distracting.

Even though you may have a pet peeve about a particular kind of error, try
to put that aside to focus on the errors that most readers will find disruptive
of communication. Those are the errors to start with.

   9. Go back through the paper and rank the errors in terms of their
      disruptiveness. At this point, it's often useful to make lists on a second
      sheet of paper or to work with a grid that will help you organize the
      errors you spot.

Don't forget to try this step with your sample paper.

Highlighting a particular error

   10.Now highlight one particular kind of error. Maybe mark sentence-
      punctuation errors with yellow highlighter and subject-verb agreement
      errors with blue. Don't worry about all the various ways that students
      create, say, sentence completion problems at this step because you'll
      do that later. You're looking for large categories of errors now to try to
      assess the kinds of explanations you'll need to start with to help
      students learn to edit for the errors they make.

Determining patterns of errors

   11.Once you've got one or two categories of the most disruptive errors
      highlighted, look to see if there are any patterns within these types of
      errors. For example, you may notice that the student uses
      coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, nor, for, yet, so)
      interchangeably with conjunctive adverbs (therefore, then, however,
      etc.). They aren't interchangeable in formal, edited American English,
      but explaining the difference to students is fairly easy. One entire sub-
      category of error might disappear with a two-minute explanation.
      Similarly, perhaps all the subject-verb agreement errors occur when
      the student is trying to avoid "he" or "she" as the subject of the
      sentence. By trying to avoid an apparently sexist usage, the student
      keeps shifting from "he" to "they," and the verbs don't always reflect a
      singular or plural subject. Giving the student 20 seconds of advice
      about changing the entire passage to plural forms (just use "they"
      throughout) may fix the problem.
Second level ranking of errors

   12.If you spot patterns within the categories, note how many different
      kinds of errors there are within the category. You may find as many as
      five or six sub-categories of error within some of the more inclusive,
      larger categories like sentence-punctuation errors.

   13.Note an example that illustrates each of the sub-categories you think
      you want to take up with the student.

   14.Rank the sub-categories in some order, most likely how you can use
      one explanation to build up for a second sub-category. For example, if
      the writer uses all connecting words in the same way, you will
      probably need to start by explaining the different kinds of connectives
      in English sentences. Then you can build--eventually--to your
      explanation of when to use semicolons with certain kinds of connecting

Finally! Working with the student

Finally, you get to move from error pattern analysis per se into teaching
strategies for editing. Again, some simple rules of thumb will get you started
with this process, but you'll want to shape your entire approach on the
student's individual situation.

Evaluate the student's ability to recognize the most disruptive error

   15.Make sure you have an example of the most disruptive error and of
      the first sub-category from which you want to build your explanations.
      Ask the student to read the sentence to see if he can spot any
      problem. (You'll want to do a bit of diagnosing at this stage to find out
      what the student knows and how negative his attitudes are toward
      editing.) Sometimes, students, especially native speakers, are more
      likely to "hear" a problem than see it, so be sure to have these
      students read sentences aloud.

         a. If the student can tell you how to fix the problem, have him do
            that and then go to the next example of the same sub-category
            of error. If the student can correctly identify and edit this
            example and one more, the problem is most likely to be one of
            monitoring for the error, not of misunderstanding the
            grammatical and conventional uses of written English. Ask the
            student how he ordinarily proofreads and suggest that he make
            a separate proofreading pass looking for this type of error.

         b. Even if the student can correctly identify the first sub-category
            of error, don't assume that all the sub-categories will be equally
            obvious to the student. Go through at least one example for
            every sub-category of the kind of error before you move on to
            the next kind of error.

Start with basic explanations and move to error correction

  2. If the student can't identify the problem, mis-identifies some other
     problem in the sentence as the major problem, or just looks blank,
     you'll need to start with some basic explanations and work your way
     toward more complexity over time.

  3. After you've explained the problem, show the student how to edit to
     correct the first sentence. Ask the student to identify the error and edit
     the second example of the same type of error. (If the student still
     can't fix the error, try another variation of your explanation and work
     with more examples.) As soon as the student can fix two or three
     errors in a row, have her fix one more with you watching. Then ask
     her to fix the remaining sentences with the same type of error in the
     two-page sample you marked. If the student can do those without
     your intervention, have the student look for additional errors of the
     same type in the next page or so of the text.

  4. When the student is confident of both finding and fixing errors of this
     sub-type, move to the next sub-type.

     Important Caveat

     As you can imagine, for students with multiple, serious errors, this
     approach is time-consuming and can feel extremely tedious. But our
     goal is to help writers do this editing on their own, not to do it for
     them, and this approach is just about the only way to help them learn
     to edit the common errors they make in their own writing. Most
     classroom explanations of grammar and editing fail to teach much, if
     anything, because students don't see those errors in their own

     Teaching Tips

           Limit what you try to cover in one session. Explaining one big
            category is plenty to cover in a session. Or if you are working
            with a student who has four sub-types of sentence-punctuation
            errors, you might be able to cover two, but probably not more
            than that. Make sure he understands that working through all
            the categories could take several weeks.
                Keep checking on what the student understands and can do. Ask
                 the student to explain the concept back to you in her own
                 words. Ask the student to write a new sentence using the
                 concept correctly. Don't just assume that she has understood
                 everything you've said, because she may be pattern-matching
                 on the wrong pattern as she edits sentences. Although students
                 will often balk at it, work hard to get them to explain to you in
                 detail what they're thinking as they're editing after they seem to
                 have the concept under control.

                Only if a student needs more practice after you've gone through
                 all the examples of a type of error in his paper should you turn
                 to the handouts or textbooks for exercises when you're doing
                 this type of teaching. Students are often much more proficient
                 at spotting errors in texts they haven't written and will miss
                 exactly the same problem in their own papers time and again.

                Possible Categories for Extended Error Pattern Analysis in Writing

Sentence completeness
Basic word order (including direct and indirect questions)
Basic modification (clauses, phrases, words)
Advanced sentences (parallel structure, variety, etc.)

Basic sentence-internal punctuation (between coordinate clauses, in series, with sentence openers, with
sentence interrupters)
Basic quotation
Academic quotation

Regular standard inflections
Basic agreement (subject-verb and pronoun)
Basic tense formations
Irregular verbs
Tense consistency
Special usage (case with pronouns, agreement in unusual contexts, etc.)

Key sound-letter correspondences (including troublesome vowels)
Basic spelling patterns (doubled consonants, silent e, etc.)

Confused connotation (the thesaurus complex)
Word-class shifts (courage/courageous, e.g.)
Roots, prefixes, suffixes
Academic terms (abstract or technical vocabulary, Latin/Greek terms)
                                (Adapted from Errors and Expectations)

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