Geneseo seal

Good Writing

what is good writing?

audience and purpose


care and imagination

lucidity, simplicity, directness

myths about good writing

Writing and Convention

conventions of writing

formal and informal writing

research and writing

writing in a discipline

grammar and usage

common errors

The Process of Writing

outside the classroom

inside the classroom

Citation Styles

mla | apa | acs




world wide words

english grammar

language log

geoff nunberg

about the guide

Creative Commons License
The Guide by Paul Schacht and Celia Easton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

SUNY Geneseo's Writing Guide

Common composition errors

"You know I'm awfully in love with you, Henry. I've meant everything I've said. . . . You won't ever let anything or anyone come between us?"
"I'd like to see them try!"
His kisses left her surer of his love than his grammar.
--Jessie Redmon Fauset,
Comedy: American Style (1933)

"Every body does and says what they please."
--Lord Byron

The Good Writing and Process sections of the The Guide offer constructive suggestions to the writer preparing to write or the writer grappling with a work in progress. The Grammar and Usage page offers some intellectual perspective on issues surrounding the way speakers speak and writers write.

You are probably reading the present page because the paper you completed has been returned to you and you wish to correct errors or avoid them in your next assignment. If you're a particularly assiduous writer, you may be here in hopes of identifying a few last errors in the penultimate draft of a not-yet-submitted writing project. In any case, you are past the speculative and planning stage of writing and are looking for some quick and specific fixes.

If your work has errors in thinking or organization, you would benefit from re-reading the Good Writing pages, particularly the page on Organization. You might also find it helpful to review the checklists below. If it's errors in usage, style, spelling, or punctuation that you need to fix or hope to avoid, skip down to the list of selected errors below.


A persuasive essay - the kind most often assigned in college - must have an argument. A topic is not an argument; your argument is what you have to say about your topic. It is typically expressed in a sentence or two near the beginning of your essay: the thesis.

Your main argument and the subordinate arguments that support it should display critical thinking. A critical thinker backs up every significant claim in an essay with adequate evidence and logical reasoning; scrutinizes his or her assumptions about the topic, refusing to take as "obvious" assumptions that are open to question; shows an awareness of other points of view; and addresses objections by refuting or conceding them.

Looking back at a piece of writing you've completed, you should ask yourself the following questions:


As critical thinking requires that you treat assumptions and claims with logic, good organization demands that you use logic in ordering your ideas and arguments. You should apply care to the ordering of sentences in paragraphs and the ordering of paragraphs in the essay as a whole.

Looking back at a piece of writing you've completed, ask yourself the following:


The individual sentences of an essay deserve to be constructed with as much care as the paragraphs and the essay they compose. Carefully constructed prose is not only more attractive but more effective in communicating ideas. Ask yourself the following?

Grammar and Usage

Good student writing adheres to the conventions of Standard English. It's customary to refer to such writing as "grammatical," although as The Guide's page on Grammar and Usage explains, when used in this way the term "grammatical" is, from a linguist's point of view, a misnomer.

So much confusion surrounds the concept of "good grammar" that a few important points, in addition to those offered on the Grammar and Usage page, must precede any consideration of common errors:

Common errors of usage, style, spelling, and punctuation

This section of The Guide has moved to the wiki.