Writing Workshops & Seminars               
Copyright by Stephen Wilbers, Ph.D.


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Error Checklist

Note: Examples illustrate the error or the incorrect usage.

Apostrophes     Commas: Missing, Nonrestrictive, Unnecessary     Parentheses

Numbers     Quotation Marks     Semicolons & Colons     Unit Modifiers

Grammar, Word Choice, Spelling, Numbers, Format
□ 1. Comma splices (commas used incorrectly between two complete sentences or main clauses, as in I just love those commas, they’re so much fun; instead use periods, semicolons, dashes, or conjunctions between complete sentences); especially with

a. however (as in I know what I know, however, I don’t know what you know)

□ b. therefore (as in She knows the rules, therefore, she makes few errors)

Then, however, thus, hence, indeed, and therefore are adverbs rather than conjunctions and should be preceded by a semicolon [or a period] when used as a transition between the clauses of a compound sentence.”

2. Missing commas

a. after titles (as in Thomas Carter, Account Executive_has provided exemplary leadership): “Use commas to set off a title following a name.”

b. in addresses (as in Minneapolis, Minnesota_is a nice place to live): “Use commas to set off individual parts of addresses and names of geographical places and political divisions.”

c. after the year in dates (as in On April 7, 1999_we began testing for Y2K compliance; but note: We began testing in April 1999): “Use commas around the year when it follows a specific date; do not use commas around the year when it is used with the month or season alone.”

d. after modifying words or phrases (as in Her boss, a superb writer_is a meticulous editor): “Use commas to set off a word, phrase, or clause that is in apposition to a noun unless it is necessary to complete the meaning of the sentence.”

e. after etc. when the sentence continues (as in I dressed, ate breakfast, fed the dog, brushed my teeth, etc._ before leaving for work).

f. after subordinate or dependent clauses (as in When she returned from Japan_she had to work hard to catch up on her schoolwork): “Use a comma after a dependent clause that precedes the main clause.”

g. with forms of direct address (as in Hi_John and Thanks_Susan_for meeting with us).

3. Missing nonrestrictive commas (commas setting off nonessential elements, as in He distributed the quarterly report_ which indicated record earnings; but note that no comma is used with restrictive or essential elements, as in He distributed the report that emphasized positive trends, and he withheld the report that revealed potential problems): “If [an adjectival] phrase or clause is . . . nonrestrictive, set it off with commas. . . . If [the] phrase or clause is restrictive, do not set it off with commas.”

4. Unnecessary commas

a. between subjects and verbs (often after restrictive or essential elements, as in The report that emphasized positive trends, was distributed to the board).

□ b. before restrictive elements (as in You need to tell me, when you are unhappy): “When a dependent clause following a main clause is restrictive, do not set off the clause with a comma.”

□ c. after conjunctions such as although, yet, and, but, or, and after such as (as in Although, there were two relevant reports, only one was distributed, and as in Your credibility will be undermined by common errors such as, unnecessary commas).

5. Inconsistent use of serial commas. (The serial comma – the comma before the conjunction in a series of three or more items – may be used or omitted. Both practices are correct as long as one or the other is followed consistently.)

6. Missing hyphens in unit modifiers (as in five year option for five-year option and long term project for long-term project): “In most cases, use a hyphen between words or between abbreviations and words combined to form a unit modifier that precedes the word modified.”

7. Hyphens for dashes (as in Her resignation - a shock to everyone else - came as a relief to him, for Her resignation – a shock to everyone else – came as a relief to him): “In typewriting, use two hyphens . . . to indicate the em dash.”

8. Missing apostrophes with possessive forms (as in my childrens toys for my children’s toys and two weeks vacation for two weeks’ vacation).

9. Unnecessary apostrophes in plural words (as in We have three Harley’s for sale).

10. Incorrect placement of apostrophes with singular and plural possessive forms (as in one students’ work for one student’s work and three student’s work for three students’ work).

11. Unnecessary colons between verbs and their complements, and between prepositions and their objects (as in My three favorite vegetables are: broccoli, spinach, and radishes, and as in They bought three loads of: hay, wheat, and oats).

12. Semicolons for colons (as in Dear John; and We have three concerns;).

13. Semicolons between main clauses and subordinate clauses (as in There were four errors in my copy; although I proofread it carefully).

14. Single quotation marks

a. for double quotation marks (as in He described the process as ‘inherently unfair’ for He described the process as “inherently unfair”).

b. for apostrophes in abbreviated years (as in ‘99 for ’99 Note:  Apostrophes bend to the left; single open quotation marks bend to the right.).

15. Periods and commas outside – rather than inside – closing quotation marks – as in He described the process as “inherently unfair”. “Place a comma or period following a quotation or part of a quotation inside the quotation marks.”

16. Periods inside – rather than outside – closing parentheses when the sentence is only partly enclosed by parentheses, as in Here are more than 70 common errors (relating mainly to punctuation.); but when the sentence is completely enclosed by parentheses, as in (This is a very long list.), the period does go inside the closing parenthesis.

17. Missing periods

□ a. between sentences, creating run-on sentences (as in She ran her best race ever he ran his worst).

□ b. after abbreviations (as in 8 am for 8 a.m., 10:45 pm for 10:45 p.m., and US for U.S.; but note inconsistency in standard usage: M.A., Ph.D., but MBA).

(Punctuation, Word Choice, Spelling, Numbers, Format)

18. Subject-verb nonagreement (as in The network of systems are not working).

19. Nonparallel structure (as in She was healthy, wealthy, and an athlete)

20. Sentence fragments (as in She was angry. Although she wouldn’t admit it.).

21. Shifts in modified subject (also called misplaced modifiers,dangling modifiers, as in Working 12-hour days, the project was completed on time. In the second example, the implied subject fails to appear, which leaves the modifying phrase, working 12-hour days, dangling.).

22. Shifts in person (as in If writers proofread carefully, you will find your errors).

23. Incorrect pronoun case (as in Please send the memo to John and I or Please send the memo to John and myself rather than Please send the memo to John and me).

24. Pronoun-antecedent nonagreement (as in A secretary who finishes their work early should be permitted to go home).

25. Their for its in reference to an organization or company (as in The University of Minnesota and their students rather than The University of Minnesota and its students).

26. Unclear or ambiguous pronoun antecedent (as in Susan told Georgia that her proposal had been accepted by the board).

27. Shifts in verb tense (as in The team members worked on the project for three months, and they do a first-rate job), and incorrect verb tense.

Word Choice:
(Punctuation, Grammar, Spelling, Numbers, Format)

□ 28. affect, effect

29. alot for a lot

30. alright for all right

31. and/or

32. assure for ensure
 or insure

33. insure for ensure

34. as for because
or since

35. bring for take

36. comprised of
for composed of

37. convince, persuade

38. i.e. for e.g.

□ 39. missing comma
after i.e. or e.g.

40. missing periods
with i.e. or e.g.

41. etc. after e.g.
         or for example

42. farther, further

43. it’s for its

44. less, fewer

45. towards for toward

46. whether or not
         for whether

Confusing word pairs

47. capital,

48. complement,

49. flout, flaunt

50. personal,

51. principle,

52. stationary,

Additional word pairs

53. choose, chose

54. lead, led

55. loose, lose

56. they’re, their, there

□ 57. to, too

□ 58. you’re, your

□ 59. other:







(Punctuation, Grammar, Word Choice, Numbers, Format)

60. Names

61. Compound words

62. Spaced words spelled as solid words (as in Did you setup the room for the presentation?)

63. Capitalization (as in web for Web and internet for Internet).

64. Other:

(Punctuation, Grammar, Word Choice, Spelling, Format)

65. Words or figures: “In nonscientific writing, spell out exact numbers of less than 10; use figures for numbers of 10 or more.”

66. In a series: “Treat consistently throughout a sentence or paragraph all numbers referring to the same category.”

67. At sentence beginnings: “When it is the first word of a sentence, spell out a number that would normally be written as a figure. If possible, rephrase a sentence to avoid beginning with a number.”

68. Dates: “Do not use st, nd, rd, and th after dates to indicate ordinals” (as in We will meet again on April 15th).

69. Money: “Do not use ciphers (zeros) with even dollar amounts, except for consistency within a series.”

70. Legalese: “Do not repeat a spelled-out number in figures” – as in You have three (3) days to return these four (4) forms.

(Punctuation, Grammar, Word Choice, Spelling, Numbers)

71. Missing page numbers (on pages after the first page in a multiple-page document).

72. Missing page identification lines (on pages after the first page in a multiple-page document).

73. Page number on first page (page numbering should be suppressed on page 1; page numbering first appears on page 2).

74. Full justification rather than left justification.






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