Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Common Writing Errors--Introduction

Although I left my permanent teaching position late last year, economic considerations meant that when a couple of sessional contracts came up I took them on. The result of this decision is that November is marking month. And because I am dealing with students of a similar standard to previous years, I am seeing the same errors in their work. Many of these also appear in manuscripts I assess privately or through organisations such as Writers Victoria. Consequently, I feel that a discussion of such errors may help beginning/emerging writers avoid them.

Below are the areas I usually cover when advising students and new writers about sources of error:

1.              Presentation/Formatting
2.              Grammar/Language
3.              Content
4.              General Observations/Advice

My intention is to deal with these areas in subsequent posts. However, as a taster of what is to come, I want to deal with one problem I frequently see: that/which confusion. I realise different countries or regions vary their approach to the treatment of—apologies for the jargon—restrictive clauses (those that are essential to the meaning of the sentence) and non-restrictive clauses (those that can be removed without affecting the meaning of the sentence). In Australian publishing, however, ‘that’ usually introduces a restrictive clause and ‘which’ introduces a non-restrictive clause, as in the examples below:

The intruder smashed the statue that was in the hallway.
(There are other statues in the house, but the intruder only broke the one that is in the hallway.)
The intruder smashed the statue, which was in the hallway.
(There is only one statue in the house and it is in the hallway.)

Basically, then, if you use ‘which’, you need a comma in front of it. And if the clause is in the middle of the sentence, you also need a comma after it:

The intruder smashed the statue, which was in the hallway, and then made off with the treasure that was hidden inside.

Does the idea of this series appeal to you? Let me know what you think by posting me a comment. And if you have a suggestion for a topic, please let me know.

Happy reading, musing, writing

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