Common Errors: The Aught Decade

February 10, 2010

To my disappointment, and likely to some of yours, too, I saw many of the same errors (especially comma faults and compound adjectives), five factual errors (compared to one in your sports autobiographies), and some very poorly crafted sentences.

Whatever happened to CRAFT every sentence?

Whatever happened to reread, revise, rewrite and proofread (far too many typos)?

The average grade for this assignment dropped from 86 to 75 (thanks, in part, to three assignments that weren’t turned in compared to one).

That’s not good enough.

If you didn’t attach your sports autobiography as instructed, you lost one full grade.

Oh — there was one absolutely superb story. It got an A+/100. I’m keeping it. The story demonstrated critical thinking and taught me something. Thank you.

The common errors:

  • Once again, comma faults.
  • Once again, if you start a sentence with a dependent phrase, the dependent phrase must be followed by a comma.
  • Once again, if you use a non-essential phrase, like this, you must set it off from the rest of the sentence with commas.
  • Once again, compound adjectives, which describe nouns, must be hyphenated. The problem, I believe, is that many of you don’t understand parts of speech and don’t recognize adjectives and nouns. Sad, but true. Examples of compound adjectives: three-consecutive championships; drug-related story; first-ever Super Bowl; last-minute comebacks; all-time leader; single-game scoring; highest-paid player; 11th-seeded GMU; No. 1-seed Connecticut.
  • Misuse of “orphan quotes.” Don’t use them.
  • Overuse of sentence fragments. Don’t overdo it.
  • Wordiness. This results from a lack of rereading and revising your story.
  • Using the wrong word. If you don’t reread, you won’t eliminate wordiness.
  • Don’t write “needless to say.” It’s needless to say.
  • Don’t write “I think.” What you write is what you think.
  • If you don’t know how to punctuate, don’t write compound sentences.
  • Avoid long, run-on sentences. Learn the beauty of the simple declarative sentence: subject-verb-object.
  • Sports are an active pursuit. Good sports writing demands the active voice. Avoid the passive voice.
  • Far too many ambiguous pronouns. A pronoun is a euphemism. Unless the pronoun replaces the immediately preceding noun, it is ambiguous. You gotta know your parts of speech to fix this.
  • When did swimming, an Olympic sport, become a “fringe sport”?
  • If you quote someone, and you didn’t talk to the source yourself, you must credit the source of the quote (i.e., Phelps said to the Associated Press). If you don’t, it’s plagiarism.
  • Words like “netted” and “exploded” are euphemisms.
  • Pronouns stand in — poorly — for other words. Avoid prounouns (see: pronouns). Pronouns weaken your writing.
  • Missing words indicate a lack of proofreading.
  • Don’t start a sentence with a numeral or a year.
  • The phrase “never looked back” is a cliché.
  • A team can take a 3-0 lead in games, NOT an 0-3 lead.
  • Factual errors included confusing the writer Tim Donahue with the referee Tim Donaghy; stating the average Olympic medal performance per athlete is 1-to-2; misspelling Plaxico Burress; misspelling Shaquille O’Neal.

Common Errors: Sports autobiography

January 31, 2010

Here are the Common Errors across the set of sports autobiography stories you each wrote:

  • One full grade will be deducted for failure to turn in any assignment type-written and double-spaced. That includes your speaker questions.
  • One full grade will be deducted for failure to set up assignments correctly. That includes your class information in the upper left-hand corner of the assignment (name, class, date, assignment slug) and STAPLING multiple pages together (no paper clips, no fold overs).
  • One full grade will be deducted for factual errors. There was only one in this assignment: Pittsburg instead of Pittsburgh.
  • Comma faults, as usual, dominated as the most common error. This is very disappointing given that this is an advanced Journalism writing course and many of you have already taken Comm203 and the required 303.
  • When you start a sentence with the dependent clause, it must be followed by a comma.
  • When you use a non-essesntial phrase, like this, you must set it off with commas.
  • The second-most common error, as usual, involved compound adjectives. To recognize a compound adjective, you must know what an adjective and noun are. Compound adjectives include 3-point shot, 12-years old, higher-level class, game-winning shot.
  • Paragraphs should be no longer than 4-to-5 typewritten lines. Usually, they are shorter than that.
  • There were far too many typos, which means you aren’t rereading and proofreading your work.
  • My mantra remains: reread, revise, rewrite, proofread. Good writing is rewriting.
  • Poor word choice is a result of a lack of rewriting.
  • Wordiness is a result of a lack of rereading.
  • AP Style is generally lower case. Only proper nouns are capitalized.
  • Single quotes only appear inside quotations.
  • Reread your AP Stylebook on ages (it’s at the age of 3, at the age of 12; always use a numeral), heights and weights.
  • There is a separate Sports section in the AP Stylebook. You should know it cold.
  • On attribution tags: They provide valuable real estate for context. When you provide context, it’s …said Smith, who was playing his 12th-straight game in goal. When you don’t provide any context (a wasted opportunity), it’s …Smith said.
  • Use said or say when quoting someone. Use stated or state for quoting from documents or reports.
  • Don’t write I believe or I feel. What you write IS what you believe or feel.
  • Don’t write for this class like you text. You’ll flunk.
  • Don’t talk about being a journalist someday. Start a blog. Now! I have a sample blog I just created: On Red Wings.
  • Please staple this assignment to your next one. Don’t repeat the mistakes you made on your first assignment. I will be looking for patterns in your writing.
  • Want to learn more about Common Errors?