I’ve often thought about handing out my students a list of expressions and mistakes to particularly avoid in their essays. You know, those bits that jump out and inspire a pained wince as well as a swift circling with the pen (or highlighting with the word-processor’s comment function). But I fear stifling their voices or having the handout be one more piece of paper they overlook or ignore.
These are hardly the most important elements of marking an essay, of course: I put more emphasis on students’ ability to craft a good argument and use research to support their ideas. But regular confusion of their, they’re and there, misapplication of it’s and a frustrating blindness to the importance of capitalizing proper nouns (and vice versa)? These errors grate.
Last night, I asked other twitterstorians how they felt about contractions in a formal essay. Almost all were adamantly opposed. Yet I’d say that most students, particularly new to university essay writing, don’t have a clue about that preference. Some are saved by their habits of fearful composition where they tend to the bigger as better. Others wander fearfully in the unfamiliar avenues of essay composition.
Uncomfortable with formal prose, student often mistake big words for impressive writing. We then end up with ‘utilize’ and its ilk clogging up essay sentences and long passages in the passive voice. Matters only worsen with the lack of time and skill in proofreading. How many of your students willingly review and revise their work?
Some problems are timeless: a large number of students will always make these mistakes. Other fashions come and go: textspeak, for instance. This year, I’m also seeing a lot of scare quotes (and not so many actual quotes, urgh).
But the one writing tic that irks me the most is to use ‘impact’ as a verb. That’s guaranteed to spike my blood pressure and no amount of saying that it’s in a couple of dictionaries as an acceptable use will convince my inner self that it’s anything but an affront.
What writing tics drive you round the bend?