Proofreading Practice (Fall 2013)

Here is my write-up for this semester's proofreading practice!

Why. I do this proofreading practice assessment because one of my goals is to help make sure everybody feels comfortable and confident with the nitty-gritty of formal written English. It's important for me to know just what kind of assistance I will need to provide (so seeing the most common errors is a big help to me), and it's also important for people to get a heads-up at the beginning of the semester. The class will be more work for someone who needs to do more writing revision, but I also hope that means the class can be of more value, too!

The Stories. This semester was the first time I tried using a series of very short stories (300 words max.), with each person choosing two stories based on personal interest. I'm pleased that all the stories were chosen, and it looks like they fell into three categories: the most popular were the Cherokee strawberry story and the Greek myth of Perseus, then the Aesop's fable about the cat and the Buddhist story about the rabbit were next, with Nasreddin and Brer Rabbit last, but still with plenty of takers. I really enjoyed reading the reasons why people chose the stories that they did.

Cherokee: Strawberries - 46
Greek: Perseus - 40
Aesop: The Cat  - 27
Buddhist Jataka: The Rabbit - 26
Nasreddin: The Asparagus - 16
Brer Rabbit: The Hurricane - 13

The Results. As always, there was a wide range of results:

The average number of errors was 15, but with a pretty much continuous range of errors from 0 to 30. Some students made no errors while some students made lots, with all kinds of results in-between. I am very glad to be teaching this class online where there is a lot of one-on-one interaction so that I can give each person the support they need based on their individual situation.

Most Common Errors. Below is a list of the most common errors:

1. errors in the punctuation and capitalization of quoted speech
2. comma splices and other run-on sentences
3. unnecessary commas when "and" is joining words and phrases
4. missing commas when "and" is joining independent clauses
5. apostrophe errors
6. missing commas with vocatives
7. missing commas with interjections
8. missing commas with starter elements
9. missing commas with final elements (free modifiers)
10. irregular verbs and other word mix-ups

Strengths of the Assessment.
 * The assessment is based on continuous narrative with a variety of sentence structures.
 * The free editing allows people to creatively correct the errors they find.
 * The free editing also allows people to introduce new errors spontaneously.

Weakness of the Assessment.
 * Some people are not skilled at identifying errors in the writing of another person, even when they might be good at proofing their own writing, which means the results of this assessment are not an accurate predictor of their own proofreading.
 * On the other hand, some people can be very attentive in detecting errors in other people's writing which they do not see in their own writing. Again, this means the results of this assessment are not an accurate predictor of their own proofreading.
 * The assessment is time-consuming for the students and for me too - but I hope it is worth it!

Thoughts for Next Time. I will probably add two or three additional stories to expand the choices even more. Other than that, I am pretty happy with how the assessment is now working. Having a choice of stories was a very positive change for this semester I think!

Help Pages. There are some detailed help pages I need to add to the existing help pages. Top priority: I need something on essential/non-essential relative clauses, and I also need something on the use of the pluperfect. Although it does not figure in the results of this assessment, I remember from last semester that a help page on hyphenated words would also be good to have. I've also been thinking that a page on sequence of tense in indirect statement might be useful. Quite a few people fixed that error in the jataka story by changing the indirect statement to direct statement, which is a great example of why I like this open-ended type of assessment: it allows me to get a sense of people's instincts in a way that I would not see in a multiple-choice type of test!