Some students come into an appointment at the Writing Center asking if we will edit their paper.
The short answer is not exactly!
The long answer is yes—and we’ll show you how to look for grammatical mistakes, so that you can have the tools to do so yourself.
We want you to become a better writer and not just have a better paper.
So let’s take this really badly written and grammatically incorrect piece of fan fiction I just wrote this morning after too much soda and too little sleep.
I’ll make this fan fiction about Harry Potter:
Harry woke up in a wave of tears. He dreams about Hermione last night and how Ron took her away from him. Angrily, he ran over to his mirrors in his room on Private drive and punched it. Harry did not want to look at himself.
“It should be I who has Hermione as a girlfriend, not Ron!” said Harry.
Harry walked around his room he thought of the many ways he could seek revenge on his freckled enemy, he would need his wand and the help of his most hated arch-nemeses Draco Malfoy.
Boy, I’m sorry you had to read through that. Trust me. It was just as much torture to write it. Here’s a picture of a kitten to pick you up:
Now of course this is an extreme case, but the same rules apply. If I brought this fanfiction to the Writing Center to be worked on, they would focus on teaching me better ways to identify and fix grammatical mistakes.
Let’s start from the top.
The first error is a tense agreement error: “He dreams about Hermione last night and how Ron took . . . .” Each verb tense must be the same, either past or present. To fix it, “dreams” should be changed to dreamt or dreamed. The best way to identify this mistake and fix it yourself is to read through your paper with a consistent tense in mind. If your objective is past tense, go through each verb and make sure it is the past tense of it. If it is present, make sure every verb is present.
The second error is a pronoun disagreement: “he ran over to his mirrors . . . and punched it.” Each pronoun should agree in a sentence; they should be either singular or plural respectively. Thus, “mirrors” should be changed to mirror or “it” to them. The best way to identify and fix this grammatical mistake is to read your paper aloud. If you read it aloud, you’ll notice that the flow of your reading is interrupted by pronoun disagreement.
The last error is the run-on sentence (sentence that “runs on” without proper punctuation). The last paragraph of the fan fiction is all one sentence. Sometimes this can happen, but not if it is grammatically incorrect and without proper punctuation. Let’s fix this: “Harry walked around his room. He thought of the many ways he could seek revenge on his freckled enemy; he would need his wand and the help of his most hated arch-nemeses, Draco Malfoy.” The best way to identify such a grammatical mistake is to reread sections with long sentences especially. Sometimes you write in stream-of-consciousness, forgetting to punctuate.
Here is a handout about commas, periods, semicolons, and colons.
With all that said, grammar can be hard sometimes. We all make mistakes, but if you make yourself more self-aware of your writing, it will make you a better writer.
For help with these challenges—or any others–come visit us at the Writing Center in Hill Hall room 111 or book an appointment with us!
Oh and if you want to talk about kittens, that’s cool too.
Charles, peer tutor.