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Editing & Proofreading Strategies for Specific Sentence-Level Errors

Writers who are effective editors and proofreaders use specific strategies for searching for particular types of errors. With this in mind, the most important thing to remember is that you can't check for everything in one reading. Make a list of errors typical of your writing -- starting with most serious or most frequent and moving to the less serious or less frequent. Then make several passes through your paper, looking for one type of error during each pass.

This handout reviews errors writers frequently make and provides "tricks of the trade" for catching each type of error. Note: Each error below is followed by the editor's mark teachers frequently use when pointing out the error.


To search for omitted commas after introductory words, phrases, or clauses

Commas should appear after emphatic opening words and introductory phrases and clauses which come before the main sentence. To catch errors omitted after introductions, try these strategies:

To search for omitted commas in compound sentences

If you have two complete sentences (or independent clauses), they must be connected with both a comma and a connecting word (or coordinating conjunction). If the comma is missing, the error is called a run-on. To check for run-on sentences, use the following two-step process:

To search for comma splices

If you have two complete sentences, and they are connected by only a comma, the error is called a comma splice. To find comma splices, follow these steps:

Information on strategies for fixing run-ons and comma splices is available.

To search for sentence fragments

A sentence fragment is a group of words that's punctuated as if it's a sentence; however, it's missing a subject or a verb -- or has a subject and verb but includes a word that makes it dependent on another sentence. To find sentence fragments in your writing, try the following strategies:

To search for problems with parallel structure

Items in lists must appear in the same grammatical form; that is, if one word has an -ing ending, all must.

Sentence that aren't parallel will feel awkward, won't flow. To check for problems with parallelism:

More information on parallelism is available.


To search for spelling and typographical errors

Most strategies for catching spelling and typographical errors involve either increasing your awareness of the types of errors you tend to make or slowing down so that you see what's actually on the page. As you read the following suggestions, consider which would be most useful for you. One or more of these strategies are usually appropriate.

To search for omitted words

Searching for omitted words is a bit different than searching for spelling or typographical errors, but some of the same strategies are useful:


To search for problems with subject/verb agreement

Subject/verb agreement errors frequently happen when a phrase intervenes between the subject and verb, as in the following examples.

If you looked specifically for the subject and verb, the error would probably be obvious and the correction easy.

So, to find and fix subject/verb agreement errors, you need to systematically look for subjects and verbs:

More information on subject/verb agreement is available.

To search for problems with pronoun agreement or reference

Searching for errors in pronoun reference or agreement requires that you look for pronouns and the nouns they point to:

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© 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 The Write Place
LEO: Literacy Education 
This handout was originally written by Robert Child at Purdue University and was revised by Judith Kilborn for the Write Place, St. Cloud State University. It may be copied for educational purposes only. If you copy this document, please include our copyright notice and the name of the writers; if you revise it, please add your name to the list of writers.

Last update: 26 March 1999

URL: http://leo.stcloudstate.edu/acadwrite/editing.html