Help and Tips

Listing of Common Grammatical Errors

The following is a list of common writing errors. If you don't know how to correct these errors, be sure to look them up in a writing guide. The Writing Center has guides you may use, and our tutors can help you learn to correct these errors.

  • Lack of comma before coordinating conjunction connecting two independent clauses
    Incorrect: Sally went to the market and she bought some milk, bread, and eggs.
    Correct: Sally went to the market, and she bought some milk, bread, and eggs.
  • Comma splice: use of comma instead of semicolon between two independent clauses not connected by conjunction
    Incorrect: We went to the baseball game, after that we stopped to get something to eat.
    Correct: We went to the baseball game; after that we stopped to get something to eat.
  • Lack of comma after introductory phrase
    Incorrect: While the professor lectured I revised my paper.
    Correct: While the professor lectured, I revised my paper
  • Incomplete sentences
    Incorrect: Performing in front of a live audience.
    Correct: Performing in front of a live audience is the dream of many musicians.
  • Inconsistent verb tenses
    Incorrect: I am the best student in the class because I finished my exam first.
    Correct: I am the best student in the class because I always finish my exams first.
  • Incorrect use of similar sounding words and phrases such as everyday/every day, everyone/every one, "a lot," (not "alot"), lie/lay
    Incorrect: I liked the painting alot.
    Correct: I like the painting a lot.
  • Incorrect capitalization
    Incorrect: Whenever dad spoke, we all listened.
    Correct: Whenever Dad spoke, we all listened.
  • Misplaced punctuation with quote marks
    Incorrect: The author states "there are four major components to free will".
    Correct: The author states, "there are four major components to free will."
  • Incorrect use of subjective and objective pronouns
    Incorrect:  Sally wanted to meet up with Larry, Jenny and I.
    Correct:  Sally wanted to meet up with Larry, Jenny and me.
  • Poor logic of sentences—beginning of sentence does not link with the end

Working with Thesis Statements

Thesis: from the Greek, meaning "to put, lay down"; a proposition to be proved or one advanced without proof.

In writing, the thesis means the central idea or focus of an essay. The thesis is found in the thesis statement that is conventionally located at the end of the first paragraph, at the beginning of the first paragraph, or possibly, in the second paragraph. Rodrigues and Tuman (Writing Essentials) write that a thesis statement is "an assertion or opinion in need of explanation, support, or development—a position about the world that readers are unlikely to accept without elaboration or proof."

Where to look for the thesis statement in a draft you have already written: Look at the end of your first draft for the best statement of your thesis; it often takes writing the first draft to state clearly what it is you are arguing. Practice looking for thesis statements in your class readings (look at first paragraphs). Stories often do not have directly–stated theses. Articles often do.

When revising a thesis paper: Scan the paper to find the "working thesis statement." Remember to look at the end as well as the beginning. Sometimes, even in a draft, a clear statement of thesis is absent.

Once you find a possible thesis statement, determine:

  • Is the statement "in need of explanation, support or development"? If the answer is yes, you need to work for clarity. Some questions you might ask:
  • Is the statement too factual? A thesis implies an argument; a simple statement of fact contains no argument. For example, the statement "Golden retrievers can swim" contains no argument. There is no where to "go" with this statement. In this case, you might ask, "Golden retrievers can swim and what else? This may prompt the "next step" of your idea.
  • Is the statement too general? "Golden retrievers are the best dogs." The word "best" implies a kernel of an argument, but there is too much to "prove." Here you might ask "retrievers are the best at what?" You might answer they are the best swimmers. Now ask, "and so…?" Possible answer: Golden retrievers are excellent swimmers and, thus, they are the best rescue dogs." Better, but still a little thin in terms of developing a sustained and interesting argument. Now, work to complicate the statement.
  • Are there other characteristics you might add that will increase the complexity of your argument? Perhaps you have learned that "retrievers learn fast." You might revise your statement to: "Because golden retrievers are good swimmers, learn fast and are friendly, they make good rescue dogs." This may still seem a too simplistic.
  • Try adding the word "but" to your thesis statement (you may have to learn more about golden retrievers to do this). A possible revised thesis: "Golden retrievers are good swimmers, they learn fast, and they are friendly, but they are only average trackers; nevertheless, they make good rescue dogs." Now you have more to write about.

If you would like help with your thesis statement, visit the Writing Center.

Non-thesis or "Speculative" writing

Much academic writing requires advancement and substantiation of a thesis. The word thesis refers to "a proposition to be proved." The thesis is stated early in the writing, and the body of the essay works to prove the thesis by constantly referring back to it. This type of paper focuses on content.

Speculative writing is different. To speculate means to spy, meditate or ponder. One of Webster's definitions of the verb is "to review something idly or casually and often inconclusively." This kind of writing focuses as much on the process of reading and thinking as it does on content.

Both thesis and speculative writings make sense, show what the writer has learned, cite generous support from sources and are edited and polished. The first draft of a thesis paper may, in some ways, resemble the first draft of a speculative piece. If your teacher asks you to respond to a piece of literature with a "close reading" or to avoid thesis writing, try these suggestions.

Speculative writing differs from thesis writing in the following ways (thanks to Writing Center tutors for this list):

  • There may be no thesis, no five-paragraph essay, no conclusion (check with your instructor).
  • There may be no paragraphs in the conventional sense—rather, the writing might consist of "chunks" or "pieces" of text. Check with your instructor about his/her preference for format.
  • The writer does not work to "prove" a point.
  • There is never just one answer to explore. The writing does not necessarily have a single focus.
  • The response doesn't have to be "right"—the writer may change his mind in the process of the writing.
  • The writer "thinks" or "struggles" on the page—this process is often edited out when writing. Some of the mental work often considered part of "prewriting" may be appropriate material for speculative writing.
  • The writer is as engaged with the language, the context and the tone of the text as with the plot or content. Begin to think about the "process" of reading and writing the text, rather than the "product" of the work alone.
  • The writer asks questions about language (Why this word in this location? Why these chapter divisions? Why this repeating idea or word or phrase?).
  • The writer attempts to see the text, or one small section of the text, from several perspectives.
  • The writer attempts to imagine why the author put the text together the way she did.
  • The writer might create a list of questions to help with a gradual understanding of a section of text that was, previously, not understood.
  • The writer has permission to follow "feelings" about the text, but refers back to the text to try to describe how the author elicited those feelings.
  • The writer asks, "Why does the author do this? Or "What is the effect?"

If you have questions about this type of writing or about assignments that might benefit from this type of writing, see a Writing Center tutor.

Hints for Reading Poetry

Although a poem belongs to a special literary genre, remember that it is also one more piece of writing and thus will yield to many of the methods that you use with other genres. Attend to the text. Look for an argument. Look for "position" of the writer. Many of the suggestions above may be helpful when addressing a poem.  Below are some additional suggestions to help you understand a poem.

  • Always read a poem aloud as well as silently.
  • Always read a poem more than once—at least three times, before you begin to "explain" it.
  • Paraphrase the poem.
  • Look up any words you are not sure of. Look for possible double meanings of words.
  • Does the poem have a form? Does it have stanzas? If so, how many? How many lines in each? Does the poem have end rhyme? If so, is there an obvious rhyme scheme? What is it?
  • Is the poem written in a definable form such as a sonnet, villanelle or sestina? (You may need to look up definitions of these forms.)
  • Who is the speaker of the poem? How do you know?
  • What are the setting and time of the poem? How do you know?
  • What is the tone of the poem? Can you identify anger, humor, tolerance, irony, etc? What lines or specific words lead to your answer?
  • Does the poem address someone (or some thing) in particular?
  • Does the poet use personification or hyperbole in the poem? If yes, which lines make you think so?
  • Are there figures of speech in the poem (metaphor/simile)? If so, what is/are the stated comparison(s)?
  • Is there a noticeable rhythm in the poem? Where do the syllabic accents fall? How many accents per line? How many syllables per line?
  • What devices are used to enhance the sound of the poem? Where do the syllabic accents fall?
  • Repeated words enhance both sound and meaning. Are there any?
  • Are there any allusions (references to history or literature) that might help you understand the poem? If so, look them up.
  • Allow your mind to "free associate" to the language of the poem. What does it make you think of? "Thinking of something" does not prove that what you think of is the subject of the poem, but use association as one of the many tools to help you read and understand the poem. 

The Writing Center tutoring services are free and by appointment, with drop-ins accommodated if appointment slots are open. Tutoring sessions usually last 45 minutes to one hour. At this time we are unable to provide tutoring to online students. Note: The Writing Center is not open during finals, Intersession or Summer Session.

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