3 Taking Control of Problem Errors

Have you ever received a marked assignment with many circled errors? This experience often feels quite discouraging. However, there is some good news to consider. Many writers find that they make the same errors consistently throughout their writing.  Therefore, rather than having 20 different errors in a paper, in reality, they are making the same 2-3 errors multiple times. When you are able to identify the error patterns that are most common for you, you are able to target them specifically, focus on finding them in your writing, and learn strategies for overcoming them. Rather than editing with the vague goal of “I need to improve my grammar”, you will be able to develop specific and achievable goals such as: “eliminate run-on sentences in my writing”, or “eliminate subject-verb agreement errors”.


How can you identify your typical error patterns? A good strategy is to use an error log. To learn how to use an error log, watch the video below, or read the description of how to create an error log and find error patterns. After the video, complete the quiz to review what you have learned. You may want to download an error log template to review as you watch the video.


Use an Error Log

What is an error log?  An error log is a personalized document that lists your mistakes and how to correct them. When you receive feedback about a mistake in your writing, you create an entry in your error log that includes the error and how to correct it.

How can an error log help me?  Most people tend to repeat the same errors. As you add entries to your log, you will likely see a pattern emerge. You will be able to identify 2-3 errors that you most commonly make. Then, as you edit your work, you can focus especially on checking and correcting these errors. By concentrating on a smaller number of repeated errors, you will reduce the overall number of mistakes in your writing as you master the areas that are most challenging to you.

How do I make and use an error log?

  1. Create a chart or find a notebook to keep with you each time you write.
  2. When you discover you have made an error, add it to your chart, along with the correct way to write the sentence.
  3. When your error log has several entries, look for patterns. Choose 2-3 errors that you make most frequently. These will become your focus areas.
  4. Find resources that will help you correct these frequent errors. Possible resources include English grammars, dictionaries, writing guides, and handouts. You will refer to these materials when you edit.[1]


Example Error Log

Sentence with error What kind of error is this? Corrected sentence Notes and Resources
The government has passed two new pieces of legislation, which is related to public safety. Subject-verb agreement error The government has passed two new pieces of legislation, which are related to public safety. The quantity (two pieces) is specified, so the subject is plural

*See class handout on subject-verb agreement

It is important for schools to effectively provide to the needs of their students. Preposition error – provided takes the preposition “for” It is important for schools to effectively provide for the needs of their students. *See Advanced Learner’s Grammar, p. 30

Try it!

Use an error log to identify your common errors. To begin, find 1-2 previously marked assignments, where an instructor has indicated or corrected errors. If you do not have an assignment available to you, ask a tutor or friend to help you identify errors in your writing.

Sentence with error What kind of error is this? Corrected sentence Notes and resources



















My frequent errors:




You can also download an error log template.

  1. Cogie, J., Strain, K., & Lorinskas, S. (1999). Avoiding the proofreading trap: The value of the error correction process. Writing Center Journal, 19(2), 7-32


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