Error correction in writing

Error correction in writing

Errors? Mistakes? How to detect, correct, and ‘heal’ your students’ bugs in writing?
Before starting any investigation, please ponder on the following quote:

Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes. ~ Oscar Wilde


Chomsky stated that “We thus make a fundamental distinction between competence (the speaker-hearer’s knowledge of his language) and performance (the actual use of language in concrete situations)”. In other words, errors are thought of as indications of incomplete learning, and that the speaker or hearer has not yet accumulated a satisfied language knowledge which can enable them to avoid linguistics misuse.

According to Corder students’ errors either a sign of our inefficient teaching techniques or that our world is imperfect and errors will always occur in spite of our efforts.

Well, as teachers and assessors, we are preoccupied with the idea if we do correct the mistakes we need, do it in the right way, help and assist students in their efforts to improve the language.



It’s important to analyze errors and classify them. Well, we distinguish phonological, vocabulary or lexical, syntactic, and other types of mistakes.

When your students write essays, letters, notes, it’s necessary to analyze them to help your learners on their way.

The data collected will help you to specify and categorize mistakes, and then build further work sessions together with a student.


After collecting students’ errors, observing the environment when they are made, I analyze the roots of mistakes and create my personal plan how to help my students taking into account my students’ abilities, their self-study time, and other factors.

You can also do the following to stimulate your students to decrease their mistakes & errors:

  • – speak up and analyze them together with students;
  • – send some delayed feedback and ask your students to spot the problem;
  • – offer students to comment on the errors & mistakes;
  • – discuss confusing topics at further lessons;
  • – give extra self-study tasks and exercises;
  • – provide more autonomous exercises to cope with old ‘bugs’;
  • – challenge your students with more written exercises at both lessons and at home;
  • – ‘advertise’ self-analysis during the lesson;
  • – encourage your students, as mistakes & errors can’t vanish quickly. Only systematic efforts, diligence, attention and desire to get rid of fossilized mistakes will be fruitful in the end.


What matters here is HOW you serve your correction of writing works, as students might be vulnerable when it concerns their mistakes, hence I prefer to use various methods depending on my students’ character, temper, and background.

You can correct your students’ writing explicitly or implicitly. I choose the explicit correction with Beginner-Intermediate students, and implicit one with higher levels. However, sometimes (very often:)) I experiment and can ask my student of a lower level to guess and clarify what the problem was by showing them a delayed feedback note where I’ve collected their mistakes from their previous talk or you can apply it to writing work, too.

VARIANT #1 – cross out & correct it = explicit

Let’s take a look at some examples from my personal bank of mistakes:
Elementary level: possessive case, to be, to have, word order, etc.

Students of higher levels usually make mistakes in word order, the sequence of tenses, linkers.

VARIANT #2 – Highlight & Let students figure out the mistake = implicit

Below you can see my Clarify-method I use in a delayed mode after speaking/writing (1-Elementary, 2-Pre-Intermediate, 3-Intermediate, 4-Advanced): 1) I give my students a chance to self-correction which is done successfully 2) If I see that my students need some extra explicit explanation, I help.

You can also create your own writing correction code you usually use in students’ works. Here are the examples of code and their exaplnations:

  • WO – Word Order
  • SP – Spelling
  • P – Punctuation
  • R – Register
  • ? – Not clear
  • T – Tense

Here you can find an Advanced English Writing class and see how errors are being corrected in-class together with students online.

Coursera Effective Feedback for Error Correction in Writing video provides us with correction codes which is also a good way to highlight the mistakes.

It’s up to you whether you choose direct (explicit) and indirect (implicit) methods of error correction, it will always come in handy as the set of measures you take will help your students succeed.

If you tend to improve your error/mistake correction style, feel free to explore to find your way in this walk of life :).

Please let us know which way of error correction was/is successful to you and your students.

Анастасия Губаренко

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