Stop Relying on Your Computer to Check Your Grammar

Does your post-writing grammar check consist solely of a cursory scan of your word document  for the squiggly green lines? If so, you’ve probably noticed by this point that spell-check, while reasonably intuitive when it comes to grammar, just can’t catch everything.

For instance, according to Microsoft Word this is a perfectly acceptable sentence:

While at her brother’s soccer game, a soccer ball barreled into Katie.

See the problem here? Spell-check might not, but you should: it’s a dangling modifier. The phrase “while at her brother’s soccer game” seems to be referring to Katie…but it’s actually modifying “a soccer ball”.

While at her brother’s soccer game, a soccer ball barreled into Katie.

So the implication of this sentence as it is written is that the soccer ball, not Katie, was the one attending Katie’s brother’s soccer game. Confusing and incorrect.

Don’t let Word (or any other word processor) lull you into a false sense of security with its promise of comprehensive grammar checks. Some errors you are only going go find if you take the time to slowly, meticulously read through your own work.

Now, chances are if you’re guilty of scattering dangling modifiers throughout your papers, you probably don’t understand the dangling modifier well enough to catch it yourself. Don’t beat yourself up about it! There’s always room to learn. We are at college, after all. If you’re concerned about your ability to catch your own grammar mistakes, there are some pretty easy and manageable steps you can take to see improvement:

1. First, give an unedited paper to a friend whose grammar skills you trust. (If you have no such friends, swing by the Writing Workshop!) Ask her to read through your work and make a list of grammar mistakes you make more than once.

2. When you have a list, pick one error to focus on. Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to do fifteen things at once. Acknowledge that you have a problem with, say, dangling modifiers, and resolve to correct it before moving on to something else.

3. Research the error using a real, legitimate grammar source. Aka, don’t just google it and call it a day. We recommend checking out EasyWriter or Rutgers’ Guide to Grammar and Style. Take some time to really study the error: learn the terminology, review the differences between correct and incorrect sentences, practice correcting your own errors, etc.

4. Read back through that paper you gave to your friend. When you come across the error, try correcting it.

5. Next time you write a paper, edit your work thoroughly. When you do, keep a close eye out for the error. If you find one, correct it! You know how to now, after all.

6. Pick another error. Repeat.

7. Start a list of “Grammar Errors to Watch Out For.” Stick it somewhere prominent (via sticky note on the edge of your monitor, via electronic sticky note on your desktop, etc.). As you select errors you want to learn to correct, write them down on this list. Pull out this list every time you’re editing your work to remind yourself of grammar mistakes you should be looking out for.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *