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Twelve common errors: an editing checklist

This list includes brief examples and explanations intended for students to use as reminders while editing their papers. To learn more, students can take a short writing course, set up an individual appointment at Student Writing Support, or consult a handbook for complete explanations.


1. Sentence fragments

Make sure each word group you have punctuated as a sentence contains a grammatically complete and independent thought that can stand alone as an acceptable sentence.

Incorrect (the second sentence is the fragment): Tests of the Shroud of Turin have produced some curious findings. For example. the pollen of forty-eight plants native to Europe and the Middle East.

Revised: Tests of the Shroud of Turin have produced some curious findings. For example, the cloth contains the pollen of forty-eight plants native to Europe and the Middle East.

Incorrect: Scientists report no human deaths due to excessive caffeine consumption. Although caffeine does cause convulsions and death in certain animals.

Revised: Scientists report no human deaths due to excessive caffeine consumption, although caffeine does cause convulsions and death in certain animals.


2. Sentence sprawl

Too many equally weighted phrases and clauses produce tiresome sentences.

Incorrect (There are no grammatical errors here, but the sprawling sentence does not communicate clearly and concisely.): The hearing was planned for Monday, December 2, but not all of the witnesses could be available, so it was rescheduled for the following Friday, and then all the witnesses could attend.

Revised: The hearing, which had been planned for Monday, December 2, was rescheduled for the following Friday so that all witnesses would be able to attend.


3. Misplaced and dangling modifiers

Place modifiers near the words they describe; be sure the modified words actually appear in the sentence.

Incorrect: When writing a proposal, an original task is set for research.

Revised: When writing a proposal, a scholar sets an original task for research.

Incorrect: Many tourists visit Arlington National Cemetery, where veterans and military personnel are buried every day from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.

Revised: Every day from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., many tourists visit Arlington National Cemetery, where veterans and military personnel are buried.


4. Faulty parallelism

Be sure you use grammatically equal sentence elements to express two or more matching ideas or items in a series.

Incorrect: The candidate's goals include winning the election, a national health program, and the educational system.

Revised: The candidate's goals include winning the election, enacting a national health program, and improving the educational system.


5. Unclear pronoun reference

All pronouns must clearly refer to definite referents (nouns). Use "it," "they," "this," "that," "these," "those," and "which" carefully to prevent confusion.

Incorrect: Einstein was a brilliant mathematician. This is how he was able to explain the universe.

Revised: Einstein, who was a brilliant mathematician, used his ability with numbers to explain the universe.

Incorrect: Because Senator Martin is less interested in the environment than in economic development, he sometimes neglects it.

Revised: Because of his interest in economic development, Senator Martin sometimes neglects the environment.


6. Incorrect pronoun case

Determine whether the pronoun is being used as a subject, an object, or a possessive in the sentence, and select the pronoun form to match.

Incorrect: Castro's communist principles inevitably led to an ideological conflict between he and President Kennedy.

Revised: Castro's communist principles inevitably led to an ideological conflict between him and President Kennedy.

Incorrect: Because strict constructionists recommend fidelity to the Constitution as written, no one objects more than them to judicial reinterpretation.

Revised: Because strict constructionists recommend fidelity to the Constitution as written, no one objects more than they [object] to judicial reinterpretation.


7. Omitted commas

Use commas to signal nonrestrictive or nonessential material, to prevent confusion, and to indicate relationships among ideas and sentence parts.

Incorrect: When it comes to eating people differ in their tastes.

Revised: When it comes to eating, people differ in their tastes.

Incorrect: The Huns who were Mongolian invaded Gaul in 451.

Revised: The Huns, who were Mongolian, invaded Gaul in 451.


8. Superfluous commas

Unnecessary commas make sentences difficult to read.

Incorrect: Field trips are required, in several courses, such as, botany and geology.

Revised: Field trips are required in several courses, such as botany and geology.

Incorrect: The term,"scientific illiteracy," has become almost a cliché in educational circles.

Revised: The term "scientific illiteracy" has become almost a cliché in educational circles.


9. Comma splices

Do not link two independent clauses with a comma (unless you also use a coordinating conjunction: "and," "or," "but,"' "nor," "so," "yet"). Instead, use a period or semicolon, or rewrite the sentence.

Incorrect: In 1952, Japan's gross national product was one third that of France, by the late 1970s, it was larger than the GNPs of France and Britain combined.

Revised: In 1952, Japan's gross national product was one third that of France. By the late 1970s, it was larger than the GNPs of France and Britain combined.

Incorrect: Diseased coronary arteries are often surgically bypassed, however half of all bypass grafts fail within ten years.

Revised: Diseased coronary arteries are often surgically bypassed; however, half of all bypass grafts fail within ten years.


10. Apostrophe errors

Apostrophes indicate possession for nouns ("Jim's hat," "several years' work") but not for personal pronouns ( "its," "your," "their," and "whose"). Apostrophes also indicate omissions in contractions ("it's" = "it is"). In general they are not used to indicate plurals.

Incorrect: In the current conflict its uncertain who's borders their contesting.

Revised: In the current conflict, it is [it's] uncertain whose borders they are [they're] contesting.

Incorrect: The Aztecs' ritual's of renewal increased in frequency over the course of time.

Revised: The Aztecs' rituals of renewal increased in frequency over the course of time.


11. Words easily confused

"Effect" is most often a noun (the effect), and "affect" is almost always a verb. Other pairs commonly confused: "lead"/ "led" and "accept"/ "except." Check a glossary of usage to find the right choice.

Incorrect: The recession had a negative affect on sales.

Revised: The recession had a negative effect on sales. (or) The recession affected sales negatively.

Incorrect: The laboratory instructor choose not to offer detailed advise.

Revised: The laboratory instructor chose not to offer detailed advice.


12. Misspellings

Spelling errors are usually perceived as a reflection of the writer's careless attitude toward the whole project. Don't allow your hard work to be marred in this way! In addition to comprehensive dictionaries, you may want to use electronic spell checks, spelling dictionaries, and lists of frequently misspelled words found in handbooks.