Hege Library & Learning Technologies

Guilford College Writing Manual

This is the official Guilford College Writing Manual. A collaboration between the English Department and the Hege Library.

Some College-Level Problems

SOME COMMON COLLEGE-LEVEL PROBLEMS (and what to do about them)

            The following list contains seven of the most common‑‑and most dis­tracting‑‑grammatical errors reported by Guilford professors. The list squares closely with college lists gathered nationally.

            It’s interesting to note that most of the errors are likely a consequence of the more complex syntax that college writing requires. When you add more clauses and phrases in order to establish different analytic relationships and levels in your sentences, sentence structures can stretch and crack.

             If any of these errors appear regularly in your writing, allot some of your proofreading time to looking for them specifically.  Acquaint yourself with the problem in an English handbook.  If the problem persists and/or you find it impossible to spot the problem when proofreading, see a tutor in the Learning Commons. 

Seven errors

1.  Sentence fragment

            The professor read the papers.  In her office.

    (Note: it is possible to use a fragment artistically.  If, however, your motive is neither aesthetic nor conscious, eliminate the fragment.)

2.  Run‑on sentence

                        There are three dictionaries on my shelves none of them is very new.

3.  Comma splice (joining two independent clauses solely with a comma)

                        I like his lectures, they always contain colorful anecdotes.

             (Correct alternatives include substituting a semi‑colon for the comma or adding a conjunction:

                        I like his lectures; they always contain colorful anecdotes.


                        I like his lectures, for they always contain colorful anecdotes.)

4.  Non‑agreement of subject and verb

                        The reason for the impoverished condition of Argentinian finances are


5.  Faulty pronoun reference

                        Each office has their own computer and printer.

6.  Misused semi‑colon

                        She has decided to switch majors; even though that will mean adding  another semester's worth of


                        He has two books that he reads every summer; On the Road and Siddhar­tha.

            Generally, semi‑colons separate independent clauses, clauses that could stand alone as sentences.  The semi‑colon's other major use is as a super‑comma when you are separating items into groups and using commas to separate individual items within the groups.  For example:

                        Here are the peer‑edit groups for today's editing session: Leigh, Skip, Amy, and Michael; Laura, Elias,

                       John, and  Jessica; Rob, Lisa, Glenn, and Debbie.

7.  Faulty parallelism

                        Homeless people suffer because of inadequate diet, insufficient medical care, and the people around

                        them are cruelly indifferent to their plight.

            You should use the same grammatical structure for parallel items in a series:

                        Homeless people suffer because of inadequate diet, insufficient medical care, and the cruel indifference

                        of  the  people around them.