Sometimes the simple tricks are the most helpful. Here's a little background to help explain what I mean by that. Back when I worked as a writing consultant at IPFW, I was taught several tricks for catching mistakes in a paper.
One such trick was to read a paper and look for patterns. Basically this involved going beyond just looking for mistakes, which we also did, but we also paid attention to how often those mistakes occurred. If the mistakes happen often enough, then they’re a pattern in the person’s writing. Sometimes patterns are actually bad habits, but luckily even a bad habit can be broken.
Some examples of noticeable patterns: Imagine reading a paper out loud, also an excellent way to catch errors, and you keep saying were instead of we're. If this happens once or twice in a three-page paper, it may just be a simple mistake; however, if it occurs in almost every paragraph or frequently enough that you as the reader notice it, then it’s a pattern. One more example might be that you notice a lack of comas every time conjunctions (and, or, but) are used to create a compound sentence. Again, the key word in this example is every time.
After reading the paper and noticing the patterns, I would then go over what I had observed. Depending on the response, I might choose to look up the grammar rule and go over it. Otherwise I would simply point the patterns out without going too in depth on the grammar rules.
Why look for patterns at all? Because the first step to correcting these patterns or habits in writing is to know about them. Knowing makes it easier to spot them when writing and then to correct them when proofing later. It's a simple trick but a helpful one!
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