We all make mistakes. When writing assignments for college classes, and even when writing for professional and personal purposes, everyone has the occasional grammatical mishap. Everyone writes a sentence that just doesn’t come out right.

In my role as the Boulder County Campus Writing Center coordinator, I have the opportunity to help students navigate their way out of these mistakes. And as different and individual as each person and each essay is, there are a few common mistakes that I see quite often.

Misunderstanding the Assignment.

One of the most common errors that we see students make when they come to our Writing Center is that they have missed the point of an assignment.

Say an instructor asks students to explain the effect of a certain phenomenon on their field. This could be something like explaining the effects of a certain law for a political science assignment, or the effects of rising sea temperatures on weather patterns for an environmental science class. We often will see students with these types of assignments come in to our center with an essay that describes the phenomenon but doesn’t explain the effects. It is important to read carefully the assignment. Be sure you note the key words that clue you in to exactly what you are to write about.

Before Commas Can Rule, Know Comma Rules.

It is my personal philosophy that if writers know how to use a comma they will avoid about 90 percent of all grammatical errors. Understanding how the comma works unlocks how sentences work.

There are about 20 rules for comma usage, and a quick internet search can lay them all out for you. Some of the ones I know students find helpful are Comma Rules (from Northland Community College in Minnesota) and Extended Comma Rules (from Purdue University in Indiana).

One trick a student of mine used that worked really well was to dedicate one day to examining how the comma was used in everything she read. As she went through her day and read the newspaper or a textbook or a webpage, she stopped every time she came across a comma. By the end of the day she had seen enough examples to have a better understanding of how commas work and her writing improved dramatically.

Avoid Sloppy Work Right from the Start.

Another common error I see is simple carelessness. While the Writing Center is a place to bring a draft that is in process and unfinished and perhaps not polished, there is a high level of attention and care that all good writers bring to the early stages of the writing process. Careless work shows little effort on the part of the writer to engage with ideas of the essay. Unpolished work shows attention to detail and to ideas, though it may have some rough spots and will need revising to become a good finished product.

Even the best writers make errors now and again. What do you struggle with in your writing?

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