All papers submitted in a college-level class should
conform to the rules of Standard American English. In other
words, papers should include
correct spelling, usage, punctuation, and grammar. Inevitably,
of course, most students miss a couple of details when proofreading: they
may forget a comma, type a word twice, or substitute one homonym for
another. If such errors are minor,
many readers may overlook them. (Click
here to see which errors are
most common in SSU student papers.)
However, there are many errors that readers will
not overlook or ignore. Most readers are annoyed by
a paper that includes frequent
errors, patterns of error,
or stigmatized errors.
Such papers are not acceptable in college classes.
Such subtle errors are considered
minor errors. If you make a single minor error in your
paper, your instructor may mark it--but that error is unlikely
to affect your paper grade.
Frequent errors. Even the most tolerant reader is
apt to lose patience with a paper that is laden with errors,
even if all of the errors are minor ones. Even though a
minor error is not apt to detract from your overall paper, a
cluster of minor errors will. Most readers resent being
expected to invest their time in a paper that the writer did not
bother to proofread.
Patterns of error. The first time a writer makes a
fairly substantial error, the reader may ignore it. But
when the writer makes the same error over and over again, the
error becomes more difficult to ignore. For example,
although confusing their and there is a fairly
substantial error, it is also a fairly common and
understandable one. If a writer uses their instead
of there once, the reader might think, "I've accidentally
done that, too." But when the writer uses their
instead of there three or four times, the error becomes
more annoying each time the reader sees it.
The authors of The Longman
Concise Companion surveyed college instructors to find out
which errors are most likely to bother them. The last page lists the top 10 stigmatized errors:
Unclear pronoun references,
Missing punctuation marks,
Lack of subject-verb
Shifts in person, and
While errors like these will
detract from the papers you write in college, there are,
admittedly, situations outside of the college classroom where
these writing patterns are acceptable and Standard American English
is unusual. If you consistently type out you
instead of u when text messaging a friend, your friend
will probably wonder why you waste so much effort.
If you carefully enunciate, "I have already seen that movie"
instead of mumbling, "I've already seen that" when you and your friends are discussing
what movie to see, you may sound pretentious.
Different situations call for you
to adapt different styles of speech and writing. The
Longman Concise Companion explains, "Becoming a flexible
writer means developing awareness of differences between the
habits of your own community and the expectations of more
general communities of readers and writers" (53).
Even though u (instead of
you) or I seen (instead of I have seen) may
be acceptable in certain non-academic situations, if you use
these constructions in a college paper, you will be penalized for