Monday, July 21, 2008

Topic: Freshman Mistakes in Writing

10-Second Review: Comparing two sets of papers, one in the 1980s and the other in 2006.

Title: “ ‘Mistakes Are a Fact of Life’: A National Comparative Study.” AA Lunsford and KJ Lunsford. College Composition and Communication (June 2008), 781-806. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Attempt to compare student mistakes from a study completed in the mid-1980’s and from 2006. Concludes that in 2006, “… papers are longer, employ different genres and contain new error patterns.” 877 papers were analyzed.

The most frequent mistake in 2006 was “wrong word.” Resulted from students who accepted a spell-checker’s suggestion of a word like “fanatic” for the right word “frantic.” There were 3,080 mistaken words, but only 48% of teachers caught them.

The second most frequent mistake was a missing comma after an introductory element. [Real writers frequently ignore a comma after a short prepositional phrase as an introductory expression in a sentence. I wonder if that was counted as an error. RayS.]

The third most frequent mistake was incomplete or missing documentation.

Fourth was vague pronoun reference. [In my opinion, a fairly significant mistake since the reader cannot tell to whom the pronoun refers. I’ve had the same trouble in reading Henry James. RayS. ]

#20 in the list was a sentence fragment. Farther up the list at was the fused run-on and the comma splice.

#14 was an unnecessary or missing apostrophe, including “its” and “it’s.”

Comment: I don’t know how significant such a list is. It could suggest an emphasis on correcting these types of mistakes in class. But I did miss a category: sexist language. Don’t students make mistakes like that? I know nothing that smooths style better than avoiding “his” and “her,” etc. or “Everyone returned to his house.” RayS.

The purpose of this blog is to share interesting ideas I have found in recent American professional publications dealing with the teaching of English at all levels, elementary, secondary and college.

No comments:

Post a Comment