Errors on Papers: The Dreaded Red Ink By: Scott McAnaul

By now we have all looked down at a paper after just getting it back from your teacher and the first thing you see is a whole lot of red marks. Your first gut reaction is that you must have not gotten a very good grade and that all of your hard work you put into it went unnoticed. It makes you feel like you shouldn't even bother trying on the next one because she isn't going to give you a good grade no matter how hard you try. Not only is it a huge blow to your morale as a student, but it effects you out of the classroom too. Whenever I get a bad grade I feel as if I let down my teachers, myself, and most importantly, my family. When they ask what I got on a paper and I show them the grade they look disappointed and tell me I could have done better. Maybe the paper would have been an “A” paper if error wasn't the main focus of the grader, ad the main thought and idea was.

Why is it necessary to correct every small mistake on a paper and add insult to injury? Okay, yes I know that I need to add a comma here and I misspelled a word but is it necessary to write in red ink all over my paper. Correct it once and thats that, you don’t have to circle the same error five different times and scribble something that no one can even read anyway. If they make a mistake that many times pull the student aside and explain what is wrong with how they wrote it. Throughout our life we are taught that if at first you fail at something try it again and you'll do better. I don't think that the same can be said about English papers because of the way teachers grade them. If a teacher writes all over my paper “This is horrible” or “See me after class”, it can be very discouraging and make you feel like he/she thinks your a horrible writer. The next time a teacher announces that there is going to be a research paper due in a few weeks, most people will react the same way by thinking “Why would I want to even try and write this paper after last time?”. The students lose confidence paper by paper until eventually they are convinced that they can't write at all. Growing up I went through a lot of this with my papers. I would spend

weeks organizing and coming up with an idea that I thought was going to be a sure “A”. But I would get my paper back and it would be more red colored then anything. It was filled with comments criticizing my writing that would call my writing and incomplete thought or she would say she didn't understand what I was trying to even write about. It is a huge blow to your confidence. The next paper all of those comments were in my head giving me doubts about my writing ability. Maybe I really wasn't any good at it. Papers should be filled with advice on how to make your paper stronger, and better to read. Not filled with rude comments that you can't even read that just look like scribble. Tell students how they can improve their writing, not how bad they are at it. Do teachers even read your writing and try and understand as students what you are trying to say, or do they merely look for any and every error they can correct and dock points from your grades? In The Phenomenology of Error, Joseph M. Williams defines error as “a specific set of mistakes that writers make with syntax and the mechanics of writing. Errors include using I where you should use me, spelling words incorrectly, and ending a sentence with a comma instead of a

period.” (Williams 37). These aren't very big deals and are just small mistakes. But over time after getting corrected on them over and over it can get very frustrating. Read the following paragraph by Williams and ask yourself how many times you have felt this way in your life.

But did you ever wish that teachers would have paid a little more attention to what you were trying to say and a little less attention to how you messed up in getting it said? Did you ever feel like maybe they cared a little too much about the errors and not nearly enough about everything else there was to care about in your writing? Did you ever feel the difference between having your paper read and having it corrected? (Williams 37)

Students all over the world get discouraged and lose the motivation and courage to put their heart into their work, and instead write a paper that they think will get a better grade because it has a ton of facts in it and it is written without any error. If a student makes the same mistake over and over again in a paper instead of writing something down, in my opinion

teachers should ask the student if they can help him understand what he is doing wrong. This will give them a lot more confidence to write a paper at a higher level. If teachers wouldn't be forced to put a grade on a paper then this would eliminate a lot of problems. They shouldn't be given a grade until the end of the year, by that time you will be able to tell if any improvements were made in his or her writing. If the student doesn't show any signs of improvement, I believe that they should have to retake the course over again until they can master it. Not everyone is a good writer. And many people base how good of a writer they are off of a grade they received in a writing or English class. Brian Murphy is an English professor and he did a study about how useful his students thought his comments were on their papers (Murphy). After he corrected all of the students papers and wrote all over them he asked them to fill out a survey. The results were shocking. His comments that he thought were helpful, the class said had less then ten percent of his comments had any effect on them. Ten percent. That is an extremely low number and it just goes to show that when a student gets a correction on his paper unless it gives

them advice on how to change it then it is practically useless. The point I am trying to make with this paper is that students need to hear positives before they can be criticized. Let them know what you as a teacher honestly liked about the paper and what you didn't. But you do not need to correct every little detail of it until the student feels he did everything wrong. No one comes out a winner in that situation and it just leaves a student with less confidence and a teacher with even worse grades on the next paper. Students really do value what teachers have to say it is just a matter of how they get the point across. Any student in the world would rather have a teacher help them understand what they are doing wrong in their writing instead of one who just crosses words out with a red “X” and tells you that your paper is no good.

Works Cited

Murphy, Bryan. Correcting Students’ Writing. N.p., Feb. 1997. Web. 13 Jan. 2012. <>. ‌ ‌

Wardle, Elizabeth, and Doug Downs. Writing About Writing: A College

Reader. Boston: n.p., n.d. Print.

Williams, Joseph M. The Phenomenology of Error. N.p.: n.p., 1981. Print.

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