How to Avoid Ten Common Errors in ESL Writing?

How to Avoid Ten Common Errors in ESL Writing? :

In this two-part article we shall identify ten common mistakes seen in ESL writing and offer practical solutions as to how you can avoid them. Here are the first five. Let’s get straight to it!

Mistake #1 : First vs Third Person Narrative

Two common problems relating to narrative are sometimes found in ESL writing. Firstly, there is the unnecessary interchanging between the two which can be difficult for the reader to follow. Secondly, there is the incorrect choice of narrative in a given context.

When writing in the academic context, it is almost always best to write in the third-person narrative. This is a well-established HIDDEN RULE in academia and failing to abide by it can result in poorer grading of a piece of work.

PRACTICAL TIP : Read your paragraphs and check each takes a consistent narrative perspective. In academia, check your writing for personal pronouns (I, my, me, we, our etc.) which indicate a first-person narrative to ensure that you are writing in the third-person.

Mistake #2 : Run-on and excessively long sentences

Run-on sentences are the technical term for sentences that contain two or more independent clauses that are not correctly transitioned through punctuation or conjunctions. Run-on sentences are structurally flawed and this has nothing to do with the actual length of the sentence; the problem can be prevalent in long sentences as well as those with as few as four words.

PRACTICAL TIP: to avoid run-on sentences, practice with your use of commas, semi-colons, colons and dashes. Check out English for Students punctuation page for further details.

It is quite common to see ESL writers forming excessively long sentences, heavily using coordinating conjunctions (words such as ‘and/or/yet/but’ etc.) where a full-stop and fresh sentence would be more appropriate.

PRACTICAL TIP : Try not to use excessive conjunctions in your writing. Re-read your longer sentences and consider if they can be broken up into two or more sentences that are easier to follow.

Mistake #3: Overly lengthy paragraph structures

Although there is not a set limit to the size of a paragraph, it is possible to construct overly lengthy paragraphs. This is an easy problem to avoid if you pay attention to the size of your paragraphs when you are writing.

PRACTICAL TIP : In general, two to five paragraphs per page of A4 writing works well. Also, try to ensure that each paragraph is about a single main idea or topic.

Mistake #4: UK vs. US Spelling

A frequent error found in ESL writing is inconsistent use of American and British spelling styles. The differences between the two spelling styles are quite subtle and can be difficult to detect for second speakers.

A common issue found in ESL writing is for the author to interchange between UK and US English spelling, i.e. they spell some words in the British form and others in the American. The most frequent instances that we see this see relate usage of:

1. ‘-our’ (BE) and ‘-or’ (AE) For example, ‘favour’ (BE) and ‘favor’ (AE).

2. Final ‘–l’ (BE) or ‘–ll’ (AE) In general, UK English will end words with a single -l e.g. ‘enrol’, ‘propel’ etc. Whilst US spelling uses double –ll in most but not all instances.

3. ‘-ise’ (BE) and ‘-ize’ (AE) For example, ‘terrorise’ (BE), ‘terrorize’ (AE).

PRACTICAL TIP : Make sure that your word processor is set to the correct language settings and try to take note when it highlights an incorrect spelling.

Mistake #5: Improper capitalization

Improper use of capitals stands out in a piece of writing and sends negative connotations to the reader about its quality. Be very conscious of your use of capitals and follow these standard guidelines:

1) The personal pronoun ‘I’ should always be capitalized 2) Capitalize the first letter of proper nouns, i.e. people, places and organizations. 3) Do not capitalize common nouns, e.g. computer, book, office. 4) Always capitalize the first letter after a full-stop.

PRACTICAL TIP : Exercise caution when capitalizing nouns - make sure they are proper nouns not common nouns, e.g. capitalize ‘Dell/Apple Mac/Sony’ but do not capitalize ‘computer/laptop/phone’ etc.

In part two, we shall reveal five other common mistakes of ESL writing and show you exactly how to rid your writing of these problems.

About the author :

Charlotte Beckham is a professional proofreader and editor. She has edited hundreds of documents for ESL writers.

Inconsistent Tenses

How to Avoid Ten Common Errors in ESL Writing?