Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Some Students Actually Want to Write Better


It is no secret that a college degree does not certify good writing skills. Recently in the Chronicle, Mark Bauerlein explored some reasons why this is the case.

After reading hundreds upon hundreds of college-student essays, I’ve become a connoisseur of poor writing. Consider this gem of a sentence that I had the luxury of reading:

This is were Taylor developed a thing called soldiering and there was two types “Natural soldiering” which meant proceed from the natural instinct and tendency of men to take it easy and “systematic soldiering” came from worker more intricate second thought and reasoning caused by their relations with other men, this all is according to our text also.

Aside from not knowing how to properly develop a point for more than a sentence or two, other common errors that repeatedly appear each semester include:

  • An aversion to using commas for anything other than separating elements in a series
  • Ending sentences in prepositions
  • A failure to believe that compound words exist (some of my favorites — over whelming, news paper, and room mates)
  • Poor word choices (e.g. in sight/incite, manger/manager, moral/morale, then/than)
  • “Writing like they talk” (I’ve seen “you know what I’m saying” more times that I want to see it in papers)
  • Placing semicolons in spots more random than tattoos on professional athletes
  • Mismatching pronouns and nouns (e.g. As a student passes from one grade level to the next, they are expected . . . )

I wonder if I am leaving something out?

I am not describing a few typos; I’ve made my fair share of typos on pieces that I have posted on the Web. A certain portion of students really don’t know what they are doing wrong. What really bothers me is that many students actually do want to write better, but they do not consistently get the proper feedback over the course of their studies.


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