Writing for Business and Pleasure
Copyright by Stephen Wilbers
www.wilbers.com

MOT Copyediting Exam

Would you like to try your hand at a copyediting exam I gave to graduate students in the Management of Technology program in the Institute of Technology at the University of Minnesota?

 

Here’s the exam I gave students in my course, “Communication in a Technical Environment.” I encouraged them to prepare by taking a similar exam I had given to MBA students. You may want to do the same.

 

Answers are given paragraph by paragraph, but you might want to see if you can find all 30 errors before you look.

 

Correct the 30 errors in grammar, punctuation, usage, spelling, and proofreading in the following text.

Adapted from the introduction to Keys to Great Writing

1.       My intent in writing this book, as well as my weekly columns, are to help you achieve a higher competence, to help you write more clearly, emphatically, and write more memorably; whatever your present level of development. The five elements of style, the five elements of composition, the approach to drafting and revising – all apply to you, whether you are young or old, and weather you want to improve your effectiveness in creative writing, on the job writing, or college course work. 

 Answers   Answers to entire exercise

 

2.      In reading this book I invite you to consider your goals and assess your strength’s and weaknesses. And as you do, I ask you not to be your own worst enemy. Don’t make assumptions about yourself and your skills that are self-limiting. I site four myths in particular, that can prevent you from realizing your potential as a writer:

Answers   Answers to entire exercise

 

3.      Myth #1: Only people with natural ability can learn to write well. According to ‘the myth of the chosen few,’ either you’ve got talent or you don’t. If you’ve got it, writing comes easily, however, if you don’t, you’ll never be more than a duffer.

Answers   Answers to entire exercise

 

4.      The reality is that anyone with average intelligence and commitment can become a competent writer. As Marvin Bell, a poet and long-time faculty member in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, is fond of saying, “talent is cheap, what counts is determination.”

Answers   Answers to entire exercise

 

5.      Myth #2: People who are good in math and science are inherently incapable of using language effectively. Equally limiting is the assumption that certain types of skills, are mutually exclusive. If you are good with numbers, the thinking goes, you can’t be good with words

Answers   Answers to entire exercise

 

6.      But there are too many examples of talented and accomplished technical writers for this to be true. (Charles Darwin, Marie Curie, Stephen Jay Gould, and Lewis Thomas come to mind). Furthermore, certain traits – such as a penchant for concentrating on specific, concrete detail and the ability to think logically – are characteristic of both science-minded and language-minded people. Like “the myth of the chosen few ”, the “technically-minded-people-can’t-write myth” can serve as a convenient excuse for inattention and lack of effort.

Answers   Answers to entire exercise

 

7.      Myth #3: Achieving writing competence is a matter of learning to avoid errors. Avoiding mistakes that interfere with precision or undermine credibility is crucial. If you fail to convey a basic grasp of language in your writing; nothing else really matters. Regrettably, many writers – even college graduates – make so many significant and distracting errors that questions of correctness necessarily take precedence over more interesting issues of viewpoint, persuasive strategy and style.

Answers   Answers to entire exercise

 

8.      At the same time, truly competent writing is more then a matter of correctness. As Joseph Williams reminds us in Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace, “A writer who obsesses on usage, can write in ways that are entirely correct but wholly unreadable.” According to Williams, we should put good usage “in its place – behind us – before we move on to more important matters.”

Answers   Answers to entire exercise

 

9.      Myth #4: Learning to write well is easy if you just learn the right tricks.  No matter how tempting it is for teachers of writing – me included - to try to make it seem easy, writing is a complicated, challenging endeavor, and acquiring proficiency requires years of careful study and discipline.

Answers   Answers to entire exercise

 

10.      This is not to say that there are no simple principals and easy-to-learn techniques. In fact, there are many – a sentence has two natural stress points, a conventionally structured paragraph has three parts, an organizational statement is usually presented as the last sentence in an opening paragraph – but genuine competence involves more than prescription and formula, it also involves a feeling for language that comes from close association and familiarity, like the intimacy that develops between long-time friends.

Answers   Answers to entire exercise

 

11.      So I invite you to set aside these myths and ask yourself: What are you’re expectations of yourself as a writer? How good do you want to be? Are you satisfied if you can get the job done – that is, if you can get your point across without making distracting errors in spelling, grammar, usage, and punctuation? (Nothing to apologize for there.) Or do you expect more of yourself than basic competence?

Answers   Answers to entire exercise

 

12.      Now for the principle question, both for you and myself; Do your expectations exceed your performance? If so, what are you currently doing to attain your desired level of competence?

Answers   Answers to entire exercise

 

 13.      If your answer is “nothing” or “not much,” I hope this book will motivate you to start making significant progress towards achieving your goals. I hope it will inspire you to look for opportunities to apply the advise I offer to your daily writing, to start working on a few techniques at a time. As you commit yourself to improving your writing, remember that genuine progress takes time. Don’t expect to accomplish everything at once.

Answers   Answers to entire exercise

Answers to entire exercise, from the top  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adapted from the introduction to Keys to Great Writing

1. [5 errors]    My intent in writing this book, as well as my weekly columns, is [1. subject-verb agreement] to help you achieve a higher competence, to help you write more clearly, emphatically, and [2. nonparallel structure] memorably, [3. semicolon in place of a comma -- a semicolon should be used between two complete sentences or between the items in a series; a comma can be used between a main clause and a trailing element] whatever your present level of development. The five elements of style, the five elements of composition, the approach to drafting and revising – all apply to you, whether you are young or old, and whether [4. misspelled word] you want to improve your effectiveness in creative writing, on-the-job [5. missing hyphens in a unit modifier] writing, or college course work.

Back to same paragraph

Next paragraph

 

Back to top of exercise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. [4 errors]    As you read this book [1. dangling modifier] I invite you to consider your goals and assess your strengths [2. unnecessary apostrophe in a plural word] and weaknesses. And as you do, I ask you not to be your own worst enemy. Don’t make assumptions about yourself and your skills that are self-limiting. I cite [3. misspelled word] four myths in particular [4. unnecessary comma before a relative clause] that can prevent you from realizing your potential as a writer:

Back to same paragraph

Next paragraph

 

Back to top of exercise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. [2 errors]      Myth #1: Only people with natural ability can learn to write well. According to [1. single quotation marks used in place of double quotation marks] the myth of the chosen few,[1. single quotation marks used in place of double quotation marks] either you’ve got talent or you don’t. If you’ve got it, writing comes easily; [2. comma splice -- two complete sentences spliced together with a comma rather than separated by a period or semicolon] however, if you don’t, you’ll never be more than a duffer.

Back to same paragraph

Next paragraph

 

Back to top of exercise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. [2 errors]    The reality is that anyone with average intelligence and commitment can become a competent writer. As Marvin Bell, a poet and long-time faculty member in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, is fond of saying, “Talent [1. sentence beginning with lower case rather than upper case letter] is cheap. What [2. comma splice -- two complete sentences spliced together with a comma rather than separated by a period or semicolon] counts is determination.”

Back to same paragraph

Next paragraph

 

Back to top of exercise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. [2 errors]    Myth #2: People who are good in math and science are inherently incapable of using language effectively. Equally limiting is the assumption that certain types of skills [1. unnecessary comma between subject and verb] are mutually exclusive. If you are good with numbers, the thinking goes, you can’t be good with words. [2. missing period at the end of a sentence]

Back to same paragraph

Next paragraph

 

Back to top of exercise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6. [2 errors]    But there are too many examples of talented and accomplished technical writers for this to be true. (Charles Darwin, Marie Curie, Stephen Jay Gould, and Lewis Thomas come to mind.) [1. incorrect order of punctuation marks -- concluding mark goes before, not after, closing parenthesis when the sentence is completely enclosed by parentheses] Furthermore, certain traits – such as a penchant for concentrating on specific, concrete detail and the ability to think logically – are characteristic of both science-minded and language-minded people. Like “the myth of the chosen few,” [2. comma after, rather than before, closing quotation marks] the “technically-minded-people-can’t-write myth” can serve as a convenient excuse for inattention and lack of effort.

Back to same paragraph

Next paragraph

 

Back to top of exercise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7. [2 errors]    Myth #3: Achieving writing competence is a matter of learning to avoid errors. Avoiding mistakes that interfere with precision or undermine credibility is crucial. If you fail to convey a basic grasp of language in your writing, [1. semicolon used in place of a comma -- a semicolon should be used between two complete sentences or between the items in a series] nothing else really matters. Regrettably, many writers – even college graduates – make so many significant and distracting errors that questions of correctness necessarily take precedence over more interesting issues of viewpoint, persuasive strategy, [2. inconsistent use of serial comma -- comma before the last item in a series was omitted here but was used elsewhere] and style.

Back to same paragraph

Next paragraph

 

Back to top of exercise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8. [2 errors]    At the same time, truly competent writing is more than [1. misspelled word] a matter of correctness. As Joseph Williams reminds us in Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace, “A writer who obsesses on usage [2. unnecessary comma between subject and verb] can write in ways that are entirely correct but wholly unreadable.” According to Williams, we should put good usage “in its place – behind us – before we move on to more important matters.”

Back to same paragraph

Next paragraph

 

Back to top of exercise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9. [1 error]    Myth #4: Learning to write well is easy if you just learn the right tricks. No matter how tempting it is for teachers of writing – me included – [1. hyphen used in place of a dash] to try to make it seem easy, writing is a complicated, challenging endeavor, and acquiring proficiency requires years of careful study and discipline.

Back to same paragraph

Next paragraph

 

Back to top of exercise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10. [2 errors]    This is not to say that there are no simple principles [1. misspelled word] and easy-to-learn techniques. In fact, there are many – a sentence has two natural stress points, a conventionally structured paragraph has three parts, an organizational statement is usually presented as the last sentence in an opening paragraph – but genuine competence involves more than prescription and formula. It [2. comma splice -- two complete sentences spliced together with a comma rather than separated by a period or semicolon] also involves a feeling for language that comes from close association and familiarity, like the intimacy that develops between long-time friends.

Back to same paragraph

Next paragraph

 

Back to top of exercise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11. [1 error]    So I invite you to set aside these myths and ask yourself: What are your [1. misspelled word] expectations of yourself as a writer? How good do you want to be? Are you satisfied if you can get the job done – that is, if you can get your point across without making distracting errors in spelling, grammar, usage, and punctuation? (Nothing to apologize for there.) Or do you expect more of yourself than basic competence?

Back to same paragraph

Next paragraph

 

Back to top of exercise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

12. [3 errors]    Now for the principal [1. misspelled word] question, both for you and me [2. incorrect pronoun case]:  [3. semicolon, a mark of separation, used in place of a colon, a mark of introduction] Do your expectations exceed your performance? If so, what are you currently doing to attain your desired level of competence?

 

Back to same paragraph

Next paragraph

 

Back to top of exercise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

13. [2 errors]    If your answer is “nothing” or “not much,” I hope this book will motivate you to start making significant progress toward [1. misspelled word] achieving your goals. I hope it will inspire you to look for opportunities to apply the advice [2. misspelled word] I offer to your daily writing, to start working on a few techniques at a time. As you commit yourself to improving your writing, remember that genuine progress takes time. Don’t expect to accomplish everything at once.

Back to same paragraph

 

Back to top of exercise

 

Back to top of document

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Adapted from the introduction to Keys to Great Writing

1. [5 errors]    My intent in writing this book is [1. subject-verb agreement] to help you achieve a higher competence, to help you write more clearly, emphatically, and [2. nonparallel structure] memorably, [3. semicolon in place of a comma -- a semicolon should be used between two complete sentences or between the items in a series; a comma can be used between a main clause and a trailing element] whatever your present level of development. The five elements of style, the five elements of composition, the approach to drafting and revising – all apply to you, whether you are young or old, and whether [4. misspelled word] you want to improve your effectiveness in creative writing, on-the-job [5. missing hyphens in a unit modifier] writing, or college course work.

Back to exercise   Back to top of exercise

2. [4 errors]    As you read this book [1. dangling modifier] I invite you to consider your goals and assess your strengths [2. unnecessary apostrophe in a plural word] and weaknesses. And as you do, I ask you not to be your own worst enemy. Don’t make assumptions about yourself and your skills that are self-limiting. I cite [3. misspelled word] four myths in particular [4. unnecessary comma before a relative clause] that can prevent you from realizing your potential as a writer:

Back to exercise   Back to top of exercise

3. [2 errors]      Myth #1: Only people with natural ability can learn to write well. According to [1. single quotation marks used in place of double quotation marks] the myth of the chosen few,[1. single quotation marks used in place of double quotation marks] either you’ve got talent or you don’t. If you’ve got it, writing comes easily; [2. comma splice -- two complete sentences spliced together with a comma rather than separated by a period or semicolon] however, if you don’t, you’ll never be more than a duffer.

Back to exercise   Back to top of exercise

4. [2 errors]    The reality is that anyone with average intelligence and commitment can become a competent writer. As Marvin Bell, a poet and long-time faculty member in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, is fond of saying, “Talent [1. sentence beginning with lower case rather than upper case letter] is cheap. What [2. comma splice -- two complete sentences spliced together with a comma rather than separated by a period or semicolon] counts is determination.”

Back to exercise   Back to top of exercise

5. [2 errors]    Myth #2: People who are good in math and science are inherently incapable of using language effectively. Equally limiting is the assumption that certain types of skills [1. unnecessary comma between subject and verb] are mutually exclusive. If you are good with numbers, the thinking goes, you can’t be good with words. [2. missing period at the end of a sentence]

Back to exercise   Back to top of exercise

6. [2 errors]    But there are too many examples of talented and accomplished technical writers for this to be true. (Charles Darwin, Marie Curie, Stephen Jay Gould, and Lewis Thomas come to mind.) [1. incorrect order of punctuation marks -- concluding mark goes before, not after, closing parenthesis when the sentence is completely enclosed by parentheses] Furthermore, certain traits – such as a penchant for concentrating on specific, concrete detail and the ability to think logically – are characteristic of both science-minded and language-minded people. Like “the myth of the chosen few,” [2. comma after, rather than before, closing quotation marks] the “technically-minded-people-can’t-write myth” can serve as a convenient excuse for inattention and lack of effort.

Back to exercise   Back to top of exercise

7. [2 errors]    Myth #3: Achieving writing competence is a matter of learning to avoid errors. Avoiding mistakes that interfere with precision or undermine credibility is crucial. If you fail to convey a basic grasp of language in your writing, [1. semicolon used in place of a comma -- a semicolon should be used between two complete sentences or between the items in a series] nothing else really matters. Regrettably, many writers – even college graduates – make so many significant and distracting errors that questions of correctness necessarily take precedence over more interesting issues of viewpoint, persuasive strategy, [2. inconsistent use of serial comma -- comma before the last item in a series was omitted here but was used elsewhere] and style.

Back to exercise   Back to top of exercise

8. [2 errors]    At the same time, truly competent writing is more than [1. misspelled word] a matter of correctness. As Joseph Williams reminds us in Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace, “A writer who obsesses on usage [2. unnecessary comma between subject and verb] can write in ways that are entirely correct but wholly unreadable.” According to Williams, we should put good usage “in its place – behind us – before we move on to more important matters.”

Back to exercise   Back to top of exercise

9. [1 error]    Myth #4: Learning to write well is easy if you just learn the right tricks. No matter how tempting it is for teachers of writing – me included – [1. hyphen used in place of a dash] to try to make it seem easy, writing is a complicated, challenging endeavor, and acquiring proficiency requires years of careful study and discipline.

Back to exercise   Back to top of exercise

10. [2 errors]    This is not to say that there are no simple principles [1. misspelled word] and easy-to-learn techniques. In fact, there are many – a sentence has two natural stress points, a conventionally structured paragraph has three parts, an organizational statement is usually presented as the last sentence in an opening paragraph – but genuine competence involves more than prescription and formula. It [2. comma splice -- two complete sentences spliced together with a comma rather than separated by a period or semicolon] also involves a feeling for language that comes from close association and familiarity, like the intimacy that develops between long-time friends.

Back to exercise   Back to top of exercise

11. [1 error]    So I invite you to set aside these myths and ask yourself: What are your [1. misspelled word] expectations of yourself as a writer? How good do you want to be? Are you satisfied if you can get the job done – that is, if you can get your point across without making distracting errors in spelling, grammar, usage, and punctuation? (Nothing to apologize for there.) Or do you expect more of yourself than basic competence?

Back to exercise   Back to top of exercise

12. [3 errors]    Now for the principal [1. misspelled word] question, both for you and me [2. incorrect pronoun case]:  [3. semicolon, a mark of separation, used in place of a colon, a mark of introduction] Do your expectations exceed your performance? If so, what are you currently doing to attain your desired level of competence?

Back to exercise   Back to top of exercise

13. [2 errors]    If your answer is “nothing” or “not much,” I hope this book will motivate you to start making significant progress toward [1. misspelled word] achieving your goals. I hope it will inspire you to look for opportunities to apply the advice [2. misspelled word] I offer to your daily writing, to start working on a few techniques at a time. As you commit yourself to improving your writing, remember that genuine progress takes time. Don’t expect to accomplish everything at once.

Back to exercise   Back to top of exercise

Back to top of exercise

 

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