As I slog through the mire of finals week, with seemingly endless papers to read and grade, I thought of how nice it would be to have some companionship in my misery. Zelda and Mrs. Parker were occupied with other things, so I thought I’d give you all the opportunity to share some of my pain. Aren’t I thoughtful?
My colleagues and I agree: one of the things that is so consistently frustrating about teaching writing is that so often, what’s broken is not really the linguistic knowledge but the thought process behind the stilted, imprecise, grammatically or logically flawed writing that we get. Too commonly, when asked to correct their own work, students will not even understand what is wrong. They see no obvious spelling or capitalization mistakes, so they look no further. Or they see no grammatical mistakes and they are stymied. Or, in the most heartbreaking response, they will laugh, say how ridiculous the mistake is, and then identify something that is actually correct!
There are different forms that these errors in thought or translations into written language can take. Sometimes it’s using a word in the incorrect context. Sometimes, there are severe lapses in logic. Increasingly, it’s the reliance on generalizations which sound good but contain little substance. For this last sin, I can hardly blame them. If you really think about it, we live in an age of thinking out of the box in order to be someone in this world, but at the end of the day, we have to step up to the plate and take care of business.
I think I just sprained something writing that last sentence.
I started recording some of the more egregious examples of bad writing I come across in an effort to understand the mistakes and maybe come up with some strategies to address and – dare I say? – correct them. To organize the massive collection of sentences I’ve gathered over the years, I started to categorize them into what I like to call Types of Wrongness.
NB: All of the following excerpts are written as is, so imagine a little [sic] next to everything you might be tempted to pass off as a typo. I’ve seen all of these samples with my own eyes, written in real pen, pencil, or printer ink. This is no “a friend of a friend has a sister whose co-worker got an email from her cousin’s husband who got it from his brother” situation. These sentences are real. Oh…so…real. They were also recorded with no reference to the author; even if I wanted to, I couldn’t tell you who wrote what or when. And no, I didn’t get them from Shit My Students Write.
Without further ado, I present six of my categories to you now.
1. Facts or logic are optional.
- Animals shouldn’t be used for medical experiments. Although they aren’t real people, it’s morrally wrong.
- Even if it has brought positive and negative effects to our lives it shows that either way it has been bad.
- Not many people go by this trend, but I see it in most people.
- In reality, no one is naturally six feet tall.
- From the age of five, my mother became a single parent.
2. Thank you, Captain Obvious!
- Animals do take a huge part on our menu of choices meat-wise.
- Life is offered to so many people in this world.
- An education can help you with your reading with writing because without it we wouldn’t be able to read or write.
- I now know about global warming from earth science and the different rocks that are important to society. Like who knew rocks would be something major on earth. Did you know?
- Next, knowing what is going on in the world today helps us to be more aware of what is going on out there.
- I feel you create your own future, so why be mad or evil?
- Life is a grand aspect that every human must attend as they are brought into this world.
- When I was about 16 years old, my mind was childish enough to make the right decisions that won’t affect me or my future.
- Life’s head is the basketball and I’m the basket.
- For example, life is a challenge it shows you how far you can take it beyond life. Just remember, one day you will meet your match you can’t always win.
4. Oh irony, you fickle mistress.
- The purpose of education is to make ourselves smater and skilled.
- Although all course are important. The most one for me was the english course specifically grammar and punctuation.
- To sum up, my parents time seemed more simple. I like simple.
5. Would you like a dictionary?
- Next, showing someone love helps them build their self of steam up.
- Then it affects everyone because the ultra violent rays can cause skin cancer.
- Africa is probably the most struggling nation country dealing with HIV.
6. Can you repeat that, please?
- My goals in life may sound familiar to most young people who is fledgling at their beginning of educational start.
- But no challenge comes easy, because a challenge is always challenging.
- These elected officials are elected by the people of the state in which these elective officials are elected from the people.
Now it’s your turn! Anyone have any “best of the worst” examples to share?