Top Ten College Student Errors

1. Wrong word
2. Missing comma after an introductory element
3. Incomplete or missing documentation
4. Vague pronoun reference
5. Spelling (including homonyms)
6. Mechanical error with a quotation
7. Unnecessary comma
8. Unnecessary and missing capitalization
9. Missing word
10. Faulty sentence structure
11. Missing comma with a nonrestrictive element
12. Unnecessary or missing apostrophe (including its/it’s)
15. Fused (run-on) sentence
16. Comma splice
17. Lack of pronoun-antecedent agreement
18. Poorly integrated quotation
19. Unnecessary or missing hyphen
20. Sentence fragment

This list is the result of a recent updating of a survey first done in the late 1980s. Here’s a kind of explanation or summary from one of the researchers:

First, with the help of technology, spelling errors have dramatically declined. But the study also found that wrong-word errors–for example, the kind that result when a student spells definitely incorrectly and allows a spell-checker to change it to defiantly–are the new number one error. Second, new problems related to research and documentation appear in the top twenty today. In 1986, no documentation mistakes appeared in the top twenty because students were writing personal narratives or were doing close readings of a literary text. Today, students are writing research-based essays and arguments, which demand at least some use of sources–and hence a completely understandable increase in errors related to the use of those sources.

Perhaps most importantly, the research points out that students today are writing longer, more complex work for their college courses (more than twice as long, on average, as essays written in 1986)–without a significant increase in the rate of error.

Andrea A. Lunsford, Lundsford Handbook Website

I think this is useful information, particularly for students, who might use the list as a starting point for their own revision process. Dr. Lunsford’s summary is persuasive as well. The details of the research project don’t seem to be available on the site. I would love to see this research correlated with the socioeconomic changes of the last twenty years.

I wonder, too, about the demographic profile of the essays the researchers used. Were they mostly PhD granting institutions or did they also include community colleges and the so-called comprehensives? And, finally, I wonder if it is at all possible that the research included samples from the emerging (alternative or second) system of online writing education? My guess is that it did not. How do we know that final papers are due soon? My geeky friends check the statistics on the popular search engines.

One good place is the Yahoo Buzz website, which is a kind of blog about the Internet company’s various projects and related interests. Gordon Hurds notes that the use of particular search terms rise sharply around this time of year. “Search is indeed a useful tool, but it’s no replacement for the real thing. No matter how much you search for “spark notes” (+202%), “cliffs notes” (+186%), and the like, none of that will replace actually reading “The Great Gatsby” (+174%).” F. Scott Fitzgerald was never my favorite, I wish more folks were teaching Dorris Lessing or Octavia Butler.


Broken English

The term “haji” is not simply an ethnic slur, like “gook,” “jap,” “jerry” or “nigger.” All ethnic slurs entail hostile stereotypes, but “haji” is a specifically religious stereotype based on hostility toward Muslims. In our 2003 book, Weapons of Mass Deception [15], John Stauber and I described the efforts that the Bush administration has undertaken to rebrand America in the eyes of Arabs and Muslims, spending hundreds of millions of dollars on projects including Radio Sawa [16], Al Hurra [17], a “Shared Values [18]” campaign, and the Council of American Muslims for Understanding [19]. Through glossy brochures, TV advertisements and websites, the United States has sought to depict America as a nation of religious tolerance that respects and appreciates Islam. These words, however, are constantly being undermined by the actual deeds and attitudes of the Bush administration’s most ardent supporters, including soldiers in the field in Afghanistan and Iraq. While the White House has tried to frame the war in Iraq as a “war on terror,” its own supporters keep reframing it as a war against Islam. This is a serious, if not fatal error. Rather than fighting a few thousand actual terrorists, the United States is positioning itself in opposition to one of the world’s major religions, with more than a billion adherents worldwide.

–Sheldon Rampton, from “Hadji Girl”

This is an excerpt from Rampton’s response to a controversy that begin last summer when a group called The Council on American Islamic Relations complained about a video in which U.S. soldiers were “cheering a song that glorifies the killing of Iraqi citizens.” The video was posted online last March. The council reminds us that “A “Hajji” is a person who has made the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, but the term has often been used as a pejorative by U.S. troops in Iraq.” Perhaps fortunately, the video has been removed from it original spot on YouTube. Continue Reading →

More Education Resources Than You Can Shake a Stick At

MIT’s OpenCourseWare:

MIT’s OpenCourseWare is described on the site as “ a free and open educational resource (OER) for educators, students, and self-learners around the world. It is true to MIT’s values of excellence, innovation, and leadership.” And here is a bit of text from the about page:

MIT OCW’s goals are to:

  • Provide free, searchable, access to MIT’s course materials for educators, students, and self-learners around the world.
  • Extend the reach and impact of MIT OCW and the “opencourseware” concept.

MIT OCW would not be possible without the support and generosity of the MIT faculty who choose to share their research, pedagogy, and knowledge to benefit others. We expect MIT OCW to reach a steady – though never static – state by 2008. Between now and then, we will publish the materials from virtually all of MIT’s undergraduate and graduate courses.

We will be continually evaluating the Access , Use , and Impact of MIT OCW. With 1,400 courses published as of May 1, 2006, we are still in a learning stage of this MIT initiative and we will benefit enormously from your feedback, as we strive to make MIT OCW as rich and useful as possible for our users.

Honestly, there is too much there to list, much less describe, and it is still growing.

And another: Edcuforge

Here’s their spiel:

Eduforge is an open access environment designed for the sharing of ideas, research outcomes, open content and open source software for education. You are welcome to use our community resources or start your own project space.

That should keep you in assignments for a while.