Center for Teaching, Learning & Technology

Dealing with Student Error

Students must use the conventions of Standards of Written English (SWE) in order to participate and communicate effectively in their studies and professional work. However, good writing and communication is more than “mistake-free” work. In fact, research on student error  in writing shows how surface errors often increase when students are pushed intellectually. Such errors can also arise from differences between home and school dialectics and the diverse linguistic backgrounds of writers. For instructors who want to challenge students with writing assignments, respect diverse linguistic backgrounds, and maintain conventional Standard Written English conventions, this poses challenges. 

Strategies for Handling Student Error

When student writing contains significant errors and a lack of standard written conventions, consider the following approaches.

  • Have students read their drafts aloud. Studies have demonstrated that reading aloud significantly helps students identify and correct errors in their writing.
  • Avoid editing large sections of the paper. Restricting corrections and editing mark-up to one symptomatic paragraph is much more effective than correcting and editing the entire paper.
  • Have students keep error logs or error notebooks.  When students become aware of specific patterns of errors they are better able to proofread their papers.
  • Call attention to common errors by discussing them in class. Provide examples of errors and ways to fix them.
  • Provide models of effective academic and professional writing that demonstrate standard written conventions. Discussing the models in class will help to demystify some of the conventions and moves for students.
  • Provide a handout of style guidelines, rules, and conventions that are most important to you. Ask students to consult the handout as they draft and revise their papers.
  • Avoid marking errors in early drafts of papers. Often errors will be corrected in revision. Fixating too early on errors can also pull the focus of revision away from higher order issues having to do with content, development and organization.

Useful Sources

Bean, John. Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking and Active Learning in the Classroom. (2nd ed.) San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009.

Haswell, Richard. “Minimal Marking.” College English 45 (1983): 600-04.

Shaughnessy, Mina P. Errors and Expectations. Oxford, 1977.


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