James Hayes-Bohanan, Ph.D.
Updated June 26, 2012
"WOW! Look at all the red ink on this paper! Dr. Hayesboh is
really giving this student a hard time!"
|Actually, this is an example of red ink I have put on my
- an excerpt of a short paper I wrote in October 2001.
The grammar is correct in the original, but the redline
comments serve to make the writing more effective,
concise, and professional. So, please do not be offended
if your own writing shows up as a corrective example on
this page! (See the new
The following examples illustrate various style and grammar concepts. Avoiding mistakes does not make one a good writer, but it is a start. The examples are drawn from student writing, published sources (not everything that is published is written well) and my own writing. My students are required to consult this list, which includes both grammatical errors and style problems. The latter refers to ways of writing that might be grammatically correct, but that are not as effective as they could be.
The Writing Handbook is an online resource provided by the Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin. It provides more examples of the kind listed below, with separate pages for grammatical errors and style suggestions. (I have mixed the two in my list below). I also recommend the Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation page at the Online Writing Lab of Purdue University.
For a much more complete list, see Paul Brians' Common Errors in English page.
Professional editors use standard proofreading marks . Although I am not an expert in this area, I employ similar marks when reviewing student papers. The examples below are the most common marks I use, with an explanation of each.
| Although ,
Among and Between
Avoid First and Second Persons
Compare and Contrast
It's and Its
On the Other Hand
Spell Out Numbers
That and Who
Then and Than
Which and That
While and Whereas
... would be ...
|This is the most important mark. "See tips" refers the student to this page, and indicates that a similar example can be found here.|
|I circle apostrophes to indicate that contractions should be avoided in formal writing.|
|A double underline indicates that a letter should be capitalized.|
|A single line through a letter means that it should be made lower-case.|
|A line with a curl at the end indicates a letter, word, or group of words should be deleted.|
|W.C. means "word choice." It indicates that another word would probably communicate your idea more effectively.|
|"awk" means "awkward," indicating a passage that does not flow smoothly. Try reading the passage outloud as you find a way to re-write it.|
Please see additional symbols stolen shamelessly and without
attribution from social media:
Please note that each of the suggestions I provide below is just one way of improving the sentence. Other changes could be made that would be just as valid. Please also note that my suggestions usually include changes beyond the focus of the particular example.
Although, her book was written in the early sixites and the information collected was before that time, the ideas she is trying to represent are very applicable for today.
Although her book was written in the early sixites and the information was collected before then, the ideas she is trying to represent are very applicable for today.
Hopefully these needs for the future can be met.
They hope to meet these future needs.
In the book Noah’s Children, author Sara Stein describes the
stages of childhood through the eyes of several people. Much of
the book is devoted to things her four children and grandchildren
The movie I chose
to watch and interpret was “Born Into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red
Light District” written and produced by Zana Briski and Ross
Kauffman. This documentary takes place in Calcutta located
in India and depicts the lives of eight children who share their
world being surrounded by prostitution and drugs.
Friends is a prime time show.
Friends is a prime-time show.
Use dashes-such as these-to set words apart.
Use dashes–such as these–to set words apart.
Use dashes – such as these – to set words apart.
The difference between hyphens and dashes might seem subtle, but
experienced readers notice them, and will be confused if hyphens
are used where they should not be. The difference between the
first and second suggestion is that in the first case no spaces
are used between the dashes and the words that they are setting
apart. This is actually the preferred way to use dashes. I prefer
the second suggestion – even though it is less proper – because I
find it easier to read.
GOOD NEWS: You may be wondering where to find these dashes on
your computer. If you are using MS Word (and perhaps some other
programs), you can simply type two hyphens together. When you move
on to the next word in your sentence, the Autocorrect feature will
convert the two hyphens to a dash. If you are using other software
(such as a web-page editor), it might be necessary simply to leave
the two hyphens in place, as in the alternate suggestion below.
Use dashes -- such as these -- to set words apart.
The rain forest would be layered in appearance.Suggestion:
The rain forest is layered in appearance.
The rain forest would be layered in appearance, if ....
The possessive of "it" is "its."
The company was required to take responsibility for it's hazardous waste.Suggestion:
The company was required to take responsibility for its hazardous waste."It's" is a contraction of "it is." As with all contractions, it should be avoided in formal writing.
It's an important problem.Suggestion:
It is an important problem.
They see eye to eye.Suggestion:
They agree.For an exhaustive list of clichés, visit ClichéSite.com , which is both entertaining and educational. The definitions provided will
In an article What Inspires You?, from Sierra magazine, ...Suggestion:
In an article entitled "What Inspires You?" from Sierra magazine, ...
In the Sierra article entitled "What Inspires You?," ...
The earth is 197 million square miles and can be divided into two hemispheres, the north and south hemispheres.Suggestion:
The earth has a surface area of 197 million square miles and can be divided into two hemispheres: the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere.Do not, however, use a colon to precede a list that is included in the flow of the sentence.
The subtractive primary colors are: yellow, cyan, and magenta.Suggestion:
The subtractive primary colors are yellow, cyan, and magenta.
This goes to show just how lucrative coal mining can be.
This shows just how lucrative coal mining can be.
Many of the things that humans are wasting is not replaceable or it may take more than a million years to replace it, such as petroleum.
Many of the things that humans are wasting are not replaceable, or it may take more than a million years to replace them, as in the case of petroleum.Example:
They have stated ways of solving this problems but what many do not understand it that this problems are only symptoms of a greater problem.Suggestion:
They have stated ways of solving these problems, but many do not understand that these problems are only symptoms of a greater problem.Example:
The term global coordinate system, which is the lines that form a grid network, I had never heard before.Suggestion:
The term "global coordinate system," which are the lines that form a grid network, was new to me.Example:
The data provided by the author supports her conclusions.Suggestion:
The data provided by the author support her conclusions.NOTE: The word "data" is the plural of "datum," which refers to a single piece of information. The assumption that "data" is singular is a common error, even in scientific journals!
The state of Texas executed Betty Lou Beets, 62, by injection for murdering her fifth husband after Gov. George W. Bush refused to intervene.Suggestion:
After Gov. George W. Bush refused to intervene, the state of Texas executed Betty Lou Beets, 62, by injection for murdering the man who had been her fifth husband.The original sentence is unusual in that it can give two false impressions: first, that Gov. Bush could have intervened in the murder itself, and second, that Ms. Beets had killed five husbands. The suggested sentence is admittedly cumbersome. Perhaps a second sentence is needed.
Desert plants have to be able to deal with extreme heat.Suggestion:
Desert plants have to be able to withstand extreme heat.Incidentally, this is not always true. Deserts are defined by the availability of moisture, not by temperature. The dry air, however, is usually associated with greater extremes of temperature than would otherwise occur.
The greater amount of people the more they will consume.Suggestion:
The greater the number of people, the more they will consume.Example:
The Temperate Forest Biome, occur in regions with a moderate or a high rainfall.Suggestion:
The temperate forest biome occurs in regions with moderate or high rainfall.(Note: In this example, two additional changes are suggested: the verb should be changed to agree with the subject and the indefinite articles should be removed.)
The article I read is about the fishing industry.Suggestion:
The article is about the fishing industry.Example:
I think pollution is bad.Suggestion:
Pollution is bad.Terms like "I think" are often used to soften the impact of an expressed opinion. Readers who would disagree will do so whether the message is softened or not. It is best just to state the case as directly as possible. If the resulting sentence is not supported by the rest of the essay, then the rest of the essay should be re-written to support any opinions or conclusions offered.
It makes you think ...Suggestion:
It makes one think ...
It is thought-provoking ...
1. In whatever manner or way: However he did it, it was very clever.(NOTE: "On the other hand" should be used only when the phrase "on the one hand" has already been used. Otherwise, it makes no real sense.)
2. To whatever degree or extent: “have begun, however reluctantly, to acknowledge the legitimacy of some of the concerns” (Christopher Lasch).
3. In what way. Used as an intensive of how: However did you get here so soon?
4. In spite of that; nevertheless; yet: The book is expensive; however , it is worth it.
5. On the other hand; by contrast: The first part was easy; the second, however, took hours.
1. In whatever manner or way: Dress however you like.Note that it is possible to begin a sentence with "however," but it should not be used to start a sentence if it is being used in the sense of "nevertheless" or "by contrast." (To be fair, some grammarians differ on this point.)
However, it seems to me that the government is contradicting themselves by saying that they are trying to save the earth by passing these so called laws an yet, they allow the earth's natural resources such as coal and oil be ripped and sucked out of the earth like is was some kind of material that can be replaced.Suggestion: (I chose this example because it gives me a chance to address several other issues that I frequently see in students' writing.)
It seems, however, that the government is contradicting itself by saying that it is trying to save the earth by passing these so-called laws while allowing the earth's natural resources, such as coal and oil, to be ripped and sucked out of the earth as if it were material that can be replaced.In addition to moving the word "however," I have suggested changes related to:
It also helps cure heart ailments, hypertension, arthritis and even birth control.
They help cure heart ailments, hypertension, and arthritis. They can even provide birth control.The reason for suggesting a change is that the sentence implies "cure birth control," which is not intended.
Three classes of consumers are found in an ecosystem they are primary consumers, secondary consumers, and tertiary consumers.Suggestions:
Three classes of consumers are found in an ecosystem. They are primary consumers, secondary consumers, and tertiary consumers.
Three classes of consumers are found in an ecosystem: primary consumers, secondary consumers, and tertiary consumers.
Seems like science and accountants have figured out for a long time now, what crops are most useful to the world hunger prevention.Suggestion:
It would seem that scientists and accountants would have determined by now which crops are most useful in the prevention of world hunger.
The problem being is that logging is still done illegally.Suggestions:
The problem is that logging is still done illegally.
The problem being illegal logging, the solution is stricter enforcement.
(This is not a great suggestion, but it shows a legitimate way of using "problem being."
The farmer himself does not profit very much from the crops he plants.Suggestions:
The farmer does not profit very much from the crops he or she plants.Example:
Farmers do not profit very much from the crops they plant.
Man has a profound influence on his environment.Suggestion:
People have a profound influence on their environment.
There are some storms that are mild, and there are some storms that are devastating.Suggestion:
Some storms are mild and some storms are devastating.Example:
Towards the end of the summer, there are many thunder and lightening storms. With the combination of lightening and dry weather, there are many fires.Suggestion:
Near the end of summer, the combination of dry weather and frequent thunder and lightning storms leads to many fires.
Long term planning needs to be done to solve the hunger problem.Suggestion:
Long-term planning is needed to solve the hunger problem.
Although there is enough food produced each year to adequately feed the world, hunger and malnutrition are widespread in several less developed countries.Suggestion:
Although enough food is produced each year to feed the world adequately, hunger and malnutrition are widespread in several less-developed countries.
(In addition to removing the split infinitive, I made two other changes in this sentence. First, I eliminated the word "there," which almost always results in a weakened sentence structure. It may seem difficult to avoid, but the elimination of the word "there" usually forces the writer to create a sentence that is stronger and more interesting. Second, I hyphenated the modifier "less-developed.")
The agreement called for the opening of markets of the United States, Mexico, and Canada, promoting trade and investment between the three nations.Suggestion:
The agreement called for the opening of markets of the United States, Mexico, and Canada, in order to promote trade and investment among the three nations.
90% of the rice is grown in East and South Asia.Suggestion:
Ninety percent of the world's rice is grown in East and South Asia.
This paper compares and contrasts the forest and tundra biomes.Suggestion:
This paper compares the forest and tundra biomes.
One complex biome is the tundra. The Tundra exists on the Antarctic Peninsula and the neighboring islands in the Southern Hemisphere.Suggestion:
One complex biome is the tundra. The tundra is found on the Antarctic Peninsula and on neighboring islands in the Southern Hemisphere.
Animals, which live in the desert, are often light colored.Suggestion:
Animals that live in the desert are often light in color.The first example implies that all animals live in the desert; the second example makes it clear that only those animals living in the desert are being discussed.
Example (23 words):
One can assume that they are similar because both are due to the fact that these occurances are a result of human activity.Suggestion (9 words):
They are similar because both result from human activity.I am sometimes quite guilty! The following example comes from one of my own web pages (http://webhost.bridgew.edu/jhayesboh/musica/).
People that turn without signalling should be fined.Suggestion:
People who turn without signalling should be fined.
Its high elevations and harsh living conditions characterize the Alpine biome, while the Temperate Forest is characterized by diversity in temperature and its high rainfall.Suggestion:
Its high elevations and harsh living conditions characterize the alpine biome, whereas temperate forest is characterized by diversity in temperature and high rainfall.
I foreign believe that the policy was not successful.Suggestion:
I, for one, believe that the policy was not successful.Of course, the improved sentence still includes the first person. Therefore:
The policy was not successful.
In the forests that will be thinned there are ten times more trees now then there were in 1990.Suggestion:
The forests that will be thinned have ten times more trees now than they had in 1990.Note that the suggestion also eliminates the two uses of the word " there ," making this a stronger sentence.
This article was from the Sierra Magazine web site. It talks about how the city of New York is located at sea level and how the growing threat of global warming could directly impact the future and the welfare of the city.Suggestion:
In an article in Sierra magazine, author Ingrid Eisenstadter argues that since New York City is located at sea level, the growing threat of global warming could threaten the future welfare of the city.Notice that in this suggestion, a few words are changed to make the sentence shorter and more descriptive.