revised, 06 January 2012
Since the entire point of this blog is to showcase copyediting and proofreading, that’s where I’ll be focusing.
I assign a series of topics that are grammar- and usage-related in my class. I have to say that I’m frequently disappointed when I see what my students come up with for examples and sources. It’s not that they’re wrong (the examples and sources). In fact, they’re frequently correct.
The problem is that they’re repetitive. It seems to me that most of those who post on the web about these kinds of topics are lazy. Instead of actually coming up with really good examples, they just recycle the same ones. Over and over and over.
I’m going to try to do better, using examples that I’ve encountered in the wild, or that have appeared in my students’ work, or that I’ve developed myself over time. I’ll occasionally lean on examples out on the web, too, but I hope they’ll only be supplemental.
With that out of the way, let’s talk just for a moment about the topics I plan to cover. “Errors in writing” is a broad topic. Where to begin?
There are three sources I’m going to use, for a start. The first is Bryan Garner’s Modern American Usage. There’s a wonderful list in the end papers showing “100 common editorial comments.” These range widely, from simple issues like its vs. it’s, through common confusion (flaunt for flout), to the borderline philosophical (mixed metaphors, or even Non-U wording). There’s a trove of interesting topics to mine there.
The second source is the result of a study from 1986 that screened over 20.000 college student essays and categorized the errors. The top 20 of these errors, as described by Connors and Lunsford, is another rich vein to mine. And, to round things out, the third source is a 2006 update of the 1986 study, by Lunsford and Lunsford, showing how little has really changed over the past 20 years.
That’s what you have to look forward to here. I’ll kick off next time with something reasonably simple: perhaps something related to commas, or maybe even the perennial favorite, its vs. it’s.
The pattern I generally follow here is to post something about grammar or usage on Monday and something about a vocabulary word (or words) on Friday. The pattern doesn’t always hold, but that’s the general idea. I will occasionally mix things up, or do something unusual – like post my thoughts on a book or a film, if I feel it has some useful connection with writing (or especially with editing).