Focusing on Your Specific Needs

There are many potential issues to consider at this stage, but chances are that you have certain areas you will need to focus on more than others. For example, you may have a good grasp of subject-verb agreement but need some guidance with commas. Or you may have more of a problem with fragments than with run-uns. Your instructor may assign a pre-test or diagnostic test to help you see which areas you should watch most carefully for.

Keeping an error log is another way to determine any trouble spots in your writing. Each time you receive feedback—from an instructor, peer, or writing center tutor—carefully review all the word and sentence corrections suggested by the reviewer. Some of the most common problem areas include the following:

Keep track of all the errors you make in a journal, either typed on your computer or handwritten in a notebook. Make a note of the general issue, such as those listed above, as well as the specific error. Also note the date, so you can see how often the error has come up. Errors that occur most often are the ones you should focus on most. Finally, make notes to yourself about how to find and fix the error in future assignments. You may even copy down actual mistakes and corrections from your papers. Here are some sample entries from an error log:

Issue Specific Error Date(s) Notes
Pronouns Using “their” for singular antecedent 9/4, 10/2, 11/4 Check to see if “his” makes sense – if it does, need to revise because “his” is sexist. Use “his or her” or make antecedent plural.
Fragment Starting with subordinating conjunction 9/4, 9/12, 10/2, 11/4

Usually cannot have complete sentence beginning with word like “If” or “Although” (unless it is connected to another complete sentence).


Many people are afraid of a major Ebola outbreak. Although experts report that this is unlikely.

Correction 1:

Many people are afraid of a major Ebola outbreak, although experts report that this is unlikely.

Correction 2:

Although experts report that it is unlikely, many people are afraid of a major Ebola outbreak.

Verb forms Irregular verb errors 9/12, 11/4 Still getting these irregular verbs wrong:
bring brought brought(not broughten)
lie lay lain
lay laid laid
drink drank drunk
get got gotten
lend lent lent
shoot shot shot

If your instructor doesn’t provide a template to follow, customize your error log to whatever makes the most sense for you. The main goal is to understand which areas need the most attention and then use this information to improve your writing.