“Errors are… unintentional and unprofitable intrusions upon the consciousness of the reader. …They demand energy without giving any return in meaning…”

                                                                                                --Mina P. Shaughnessy, Errors & Expectations


·         Identify and rank the kinds of errors you find most important. Think about keying errors to the stages of the writing process.

·         Make your expectations on errors clear to students from the start. As part of your syllabus, create an “error policy” which discusses which errors you find most important, how they will be weighted in assessment, and how you will discuss them with students. A policy could include a maximum allowable number of errors per page before the grade drops.

·         Alternatively, have students write an “error policy” or have them discuss in class what kinds of errors are most important and what percentage of the grade should be set aside for errors/correctness (with your veto powers intact, of course).

·         During peer review sessions, have reviewers identify one error in the paper reviewed (in other words, add this to the written tasks you're assigning for peer review). Balance this by asking reviewers to identify one sentence/passage which is correct, clear, and appropriate.

·         Hold whole class reviews of one or two anonymous papers, or papers from other classes. Identify one (keep it limited so as not to be too negative) error, why it is an error, and how to fix it. Of course, this must be done in a very constructive way.

·         Use editing shorthand in the margins. Most handbooks provide such a table (e.g., “dm” for dangling modifier).

·         Key errors against a handbook. Most handbooks have clearly marked sections and keys to help in quickly finding information on grammatical issues.

·         Discuss one important error during student conferences, as it appears in the student’s paper. Give the student a “sample error” and see if he/she can identify why it’s an error and how to fix it. Many handbooks include examples of errors.

·         Exhaustive marking: mark the most important errors, describe the error, and show how one error can be eliminated. Very time consuming.

·         Minimal marking: put a check in the margin of a line with an error (works best with lower-order errors), or underline part of a sentence containing an error. Make students identify and fix errors.

·         Have students keep an error notebook, at least for part of the semester.

·         If you are having students keep a journal, have them write about earlier experiences with grammar instruction, about errors they notice in the textual world around them, about their reactions to or struggles with errors in their papers.




Connors, Robert J., and Andrea A. Lunsford. “Frequency of Formal Errors in Current College Writing, or Ma and Pa Kettle Do Research.” College Composition and Communication 39 (December 1988): 395-409.


Hartwell, Patrick. “Grammar, Grammars, and the Teaching of Grammar.” College English 47 (February 1985): 105-27.


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


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


Williams, James D. The Teacher’s Grammar Book. Lawrence Erlbaum, 1999.


Williams, Joseph. “The Phenomenology of Error.” College Composition and Communication 32 (May 1981): 152-68.