Most of you know I teach at the university level, juniors and seniors.  The course is called Advanced Writing, but it might surprise you (if you are not a teacher yourself) what has to be re-taught in order to receive a decent paper from these students.  Here is a list of things that bother teachers (and educated readers) the most:

  1.  A paper that does not have anything to say, that is just turned in for the sake of turning it in.

2.    When there is overwhelming evidence that the paper has not been proofread.

3.  Failure to avoid words, phrases, and expressions that are overused, lazy ways to explain or describe:

“In today’s society”… Use instead “Today.”

In this paper I will discuss/show … Just state the point; the reader will know it is “you” and “your” paper.

Weak verbs, especially “go, going, gone/ get, got, gotten, getting”…The latter group shows up frequently in 7th grade writing. Take this as an insult; it is MEANT that way!

The reason is/was because… Due to the fact that… This is especially repulsive and annoying, not to mention wordy.

Overusing “you” , “your” or “you’re”. This is careless. It shows one cannot think of a way to address the audience except by using second-person “you”.

Ambiguous pronoun references, especially “it” and “they”. This is simply not acceptable in argumentative writing.

Cliches and the first phrase that you have heard so often, it immediately comes to mind. One example is ending your paper with “In conclusion…”

Alot (aka a lot of) This is not even a real word but should be two words. “A lot” (or even more horrendous) “A lota” means so many different things to different people that it has no meaning.  Twenty-five pennies is a lot of money to a two-year-old, a fist full.  Give a young adult twenty-five pennies, and he/she will say,  “This isn’t even a quarter… besides they won’t even fit in a vending machine!”

Using “where” incorrectly.  Do not use it to mean “that” (I read in the paper where they’re going to build a new office building downtown. This use sounds like you have  discovered the location of the building. )

The following are often seen in print, but are not standard English usage and are not acceptable for formal writing aimed at an academic audience:

Writers who use “that” referring to people, animals and things. My rule of thumb is to use “who” for people and “that” only for animals and things. “The student that wants to get ahead…” simply is WRONG!  The limb that broke my fall from the tree”… or the puppy that captured my heart”… both are correct.

People who use the term “very unique” are not choosing their words well.  Conventionally, “unique” means “one of a kind”. something cannot be” very one of a kind”.  Choose a different phrase such as  “very original” or  “very special”.  Save “unique” for something that IS one of a kind, the only one in existence.

Believe it or not (If you are a teacher you see it every day.) these errors turn up in every paper in every class.  I usually hand a list of these out the first day, titled PET PEEVES, and inform the students that if they want to please me, their target audience for their papers,  to avoid these pitfalls at all costs.  Even though I circle these errors over and over again each time I collect a set of papers,  I know I will still be circling them when grading final papers.  Sigh…



Author: Rae Longest

This year marks my fiftieth year in AAUW (American Association of University Women). The Alvin chapter was begun in 1947, and as a new, green teacher to Alvin Independent School District, I joined in 1968. In the 80's we began a book group to share our love of reading, books,and fellowship with other women and girls who loved the same. We resurrected the group on-line in September of 2015. Eventually Powerful Women Readers folded as an on-line book club, but I kept the title and turned it into a blog. (See "Introduction,"first blog). This is my first experience at blogging or publishing anything and is becomes more fun with each blog posted. I am currently teaching as an adjunct at The University of Houston Clear Lake. This makes my 28th year there after three years at Alvin Community College and an almost-twenty year career as a classroom teacher with Alvin Independent School District. Reading and writing are "in my blood" just like teaching is. I hope you enjoy the blog.


    1. What’s frustrating is when they don’t incorporate your constructive criticism and say a Bt or even a B is “good enough.” I try to instill in them that “Good enough is not good enough if it can be better.”

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes, that has to be frustrating. I bet some have already come to believe that they just can’t write. It’s sad really, it’s like art where we’ve judged people when they were kids and then they give up.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Oh dear! I never taught at this level and we had our own difficulties, and often very boring! Although that said, there were some who wrote far better than myself by the time they were twelve/thirteen. Happy reading!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are always some shining stars who write circles around me and all I can be is a cheerleader, pointing out the excellent parts and the “really nice heres.” Those make it all worth it.


  2. It might remind you of how far they have come if you stopped by my school and observed our first graders writing their first pieces. I get most frustrated when I see children writing their names like this: joNathaN, with capital letters in all the wrong places. We have used a method of writing instruction in our public schools for the last twelve years called Literacy Collaborative. I don’t think it has improved the structure children should know in writing. Perhaps it has improved content.

    Liked by 1 person

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