The obvious purpose of writing is to communicate a thought or message to an audience. When a writer makes common mistakes such as using run-on sentences, comma splices, or fragments in place of complete sentences, then the reader has a more difficult time understanding what the writer intends to communicate.
Of course, as writers, we always understand what we write. We have background knowledge the reader may not have, we can decipher incomplete thoughts because we fill in the blanks as we read and edit our papers, and we often miss incorrect punctuation as we skim our papers due to our familiarity with the content. While a computer grammar checker can pick up some of our mistakes, we cannot rely on it to alert us to all errors. To advance as a writer, it is essential to understand common mistakes and how to correct each type.
Common sentence structure mistakes include:
Run-on sentence: A sentence with two or more complete sentences (independent clauses) that are incorrectly fused together.
Example: I love to garden I would garden every day if I had the time.
- I love to garden. I would garden every day if I had the time. (Period separates the two complete thoughts)
- I love to garden; I would garden every day if I had the time. (A semicolon separates the sentences.)
- I love to garden and would do so every day if I had the time. (The conjunction “and” brings the two independent clauses together as one complete sentence.)
- Because I love to garden, I would do so every day if I had the time. (A subordinating conjunction such as because, unless or although, turns one of the two independent clauses into a dependent clause.)
Comma splice: A sentence consisting of two or more independent clauses incorrectly linked together with a comma. The coordinating conjunction is missing.
Example: My daughter and I love to garden, we get to enjoy our vegetables together.
- My daughter and I love to garden. We get to enjoy our vegetables together. (Use a period to make two complete sentences.)
- My daughter and I love to garden, and we get to enjoy our vegetables together. (Use a coordinating conjunction such as “and” to correctly link the sentences.)
- After my daughter and I garden, we get to enjoy our vegetables together. (Turn one clause into a dependent clause using the subordinating conjunction “after.”)
Fragment: A group of words that does not contain an independent clause (complete sentence with a noun and verb).
Example: My paper explores aspects of organizations. Such as structure, culture, and sensemaking.
- My paper explores aspects of organizations, such as structure, culture, and sesemaking. (Use a comma to link the fragment to the first sentence with the transition “such as.”)
- Organization structure, culture, and sensemaking are three aspects of organization I explore in this paper. (Use the fragment as the dependent clause of a complex sentence.)
- My paper explores aspects of organizations. For instance, I focus on structure, culture, and sensemaking as three key areas of the organization. (Use a transition like “for instance” to unite the two thoughts.)
Grammar is often frustrating and may seem overly complex. An effective first strategy is to read your paper outloud. Listen to where you pause (you may need a comma or period if there isn’t one), where you stumble over words, or where the thought no longer makes sense to you. The more you write with a discerning eye or ear, the more mistakes you will find to correct.
While the onous is on the writer to ensure grammar is correct in each paper written, the free Grammarly app can help identify more grammar errors than the checker included in Word.