4 key things to watch out for before submitting that important assignment

Do you often submit completed assignments or applications without giving them a second glance?

If your answer is yes, think twice! Even the best writers have made errors in their drafts, and there may be a few sneaky ones hiding in yours. Proofreading makes sure that you weed them out so that your points and arguments can come across more convincingly. You’ll also avoid being marked down for assignments, which could cause you to drop a letter grade.

Proofreading is also incredibly crucial for scholarship applications, for example, as this is the one time you should go all out to impress; keep your eyes peeled for these four recurring errors and you’ll be off to a good start!

1) Homophones

Homophones are words that share pronunciation, but not the same spelling or meaning. These include bear and bare, their and there, pore and pour, as well as rain and reign, just to name a few!

We usually fall prey to homophones when we’re tired or distracted. The results can be fun sometimes—think nice to meat you for a fun pun, instead of nice to meet you—but avoid homophones with a ten-foot pole in assignments, reports, and professional settings lest you lose your credibility. We’re sure you wouldn’t want to conclude a convincing political science assignment talking about ‘the state of currant affairs’, or email your internship supervisor saying that ‘you’re on bored’!

What if you’ve had one too many cups of coffee and a sleepless night, and can no longer tell left from right?

Enlist the help of a spelling and grammar checker like Grammarly! We put Grammarly to the test and it caught all the homophone usage that took place above, so we recommend making it a habit to run all your work through it before submission. If it’s a really important document, ask a friend or groupmate to give your work a look-through. You can also consider engaging proofreading services to help you, but only if this doesn’t violate your school’s code of conduct!

Tip: Other commonly confused words include ‘complement’ and ‘compliment’, ‘stationary’ and ‘stationery’, as well as ‘discreet and ‘discrete’!

2) Stylistic errors

Different disciplines of study follow different citation style guides, which can be a tad confusing if you’re taking a double major or an elective outside of your major. There’s no other way to get better at citations than with practice, and you’ll have plenty of it with all the assignments you’ll write!

If you’re referencing websites as guides or checklists, do make sure that their guidelines are up-to-date: the MLA handbook, for example, is now into its eighth edition and will be releasing the ninth in April 2021.

Other things to pay attention to include punctuation! Did you know, for example, that there are two kinds of apostrophes? They are the curly apostrophe (’) and the straight apostrophe (‘), and your assignment may end up with a mix of both if you copy a chunk of text directly off the web or a resource. Make sure that what you use is consistent—the find and replace feature will come in handy here! If your work is design related, do note that things are a little stricter where typography is concerned.

Semicolons are fun to add variety to your work, but they are not interchangeable with colons. It’s the same for hyphens (-), en dashes (–⁠), and em dashes (—): the first is used to join compound words, the second to indicate a span or range and the last, for emphasis or readability.

3) Typographical errors

Typos happen to everyone at some point! We might trip on the same words ‘occasionally’ or ‘continuously’. Some of us may be weak for ‘dessert’, or have a stray mouse eating away the second ‘s’ in our mousse.

Excuse me kind sir/madam, would you share some chocolate mousse with me?

Be alert when using words such as these, and never assume that Microsoft Word will catch them all! You’ll thank yourself in the future after this becomes second nature, and stop yourself in time from typing ‘your go ahead first’ in an office-wide chat. We speak from first-hand experience when we say that you will cringe for many days.

Last but not least, make sure that you use the appropriate standard of English throughout! Remember that Singapore uses British English or Standard Singapore English, unless indicated otherwise (such as applications to American universities, for instance).

4) Grammatical errors

Let’s all be honest: precious few of us remember the grammar rules we learnt in school. Instead, we decide what goes where by gut feel (or unconscious competence perhaps) and the taste of words on our tongue.

While languages are fluid, assignments and work documents still require a certain level of formality. Apart from subject-verb agreement, do look out for run-on sentences, dangling or misplaced modifiers and verb-tense agreement.

Here’s a quick glossary of the aforementioned terms to refresh your memory!

  • Subject-verb agreement: Singular subject = singular verb and plural subject = plural verb. Collective and uncountable nouns are considered singular with the exception for nouns like ‘earnings’ or ‘goods’, which only have plural forms.
  • Run-on sentences: These comprise two or more independent clauses that can function as complete sentences on their own. Commas used inappropriately in such sentences are called comma splices.
  • Dangling or misplaced modifiers: These typically show up in sentences without subjects, or when a modifier appears to be attached to an incorrect subject.

Here’s an example: Charlie recorded a song for his sibling called Endless Love.

Is Charlie’s sibling named Endless Love? We’re guessing otherwise!

  • Verb-tense agreement: There are twelve types of verb tenses. Are you writing in the simple present tense, the simple past tense, the simple future tense, the present continuous tense, the past continuous tense, the future continuous tense, the present perfect tense, the past perfect tense, the future perfect tense, the present perfect continuous tense, the past perfect continuous tense or the future perfect continuous tense? Make sure you’re consistent!

Practice makes perfect. If you have some time to spare right now, why not use it to do some proofreading? Revisit an essay or submission you are proud of, and see if there’s anything you can improve on. We’re sure you will!

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