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Writing Errors

In reading recent student writing, I've noticed the following common errors. Make sure to avoid these or revise them out of your formal writing!   …scroll down if needed…

  • they're/there/their Homophone
  • Apostrophe Problems
  • Naked Quotations
  • Proper MLA Citation (Page Citation)
  • Commas after Introductory Phrases
  • than versus then
  • Comma Usage

they're/there/their Homophone


  • First off, save yourself confusion and NEVER use they're in formal writing. Write out they are.
  • their is a possessive pronoun. This means that whatever follows it will be a noun that belongs to something else (their dog, their idea, their neighbor all show possession). Many students find it useful to remember:
    • I = person … the I in their reminds them that we're talking about a person/character/group owning something.
  • there is usually an adverb indicating location or existence.
    • Where? There.
    • Do dogs exist? There are several kinds of dogs.

Apostrophe Problems


This is very straighforward: In the English language there exist only two purposes for an apostrophe:

  • To show POSSESSION
    • Mr. Gardner's website
    • the team's record
    • America's population
  • To show that LETTERS HAVE BEEN REMOVED in order to make a contraction
    • can't = cannot (the apostrophe shows that the N and O have been removed)
    • she's = she is (the apostrphe shows that the I has been removed)

If you are indicating more than one of something, you will never use an apostrophe:

  • The nine dog's are running. (WRONG!!!)
  • I have four hamburger's for lunch. (WRONG!!!)

Naked Quotations

When you give directly quoted text evidence in a paragraph, the quotation cannot stand alone:


There are many reasons to agree. "The government has shown that the rules are correct" (7). Correct rules must be followed.


There are many reasons to agree. As David Smith points out, "The government has shown that the rules are correct" (7). Correct rules must be followed.

The easiest way to make sure you don't have a naked quote is to open with a clause like the example above. Even more sophisticated is to integrate the quote into the grammar of your own sentence so that if read aloud, the quote blends in seamlessly with your own wording:

There are many reasons to agree. Various Supreme Court rulings have "shown that the rules are correct" (7). Correct rules must be followed.

Proper MLA Citation (Page Citation)

NOTE: refer to the Yellow Format and Documentation Guide for details about citing sources when there are multiple sources used in a paper. The instructions below are useful when only one source is being used, such as when you write about a single story, novel, peom, or other work of literature.

When you are citing a page number after a direct quotation, here are the basics:

  • Do not use the word page or any abbreviation of page such as p., pg., or pag.
  • The period ALWAYS GOES AFTER the parenthesis of the page citation.
  • If there is a comma, semi-colon, colon, dash, or period at the very end inside your quoted "text," drop that punctuation.
  • If there is a question mark or exclamation point at the very end inside your quoted "text," keep it.
  • There is always a SPACE after the closing "quotation marks."



She said "That citataion looks right" (47).


  • She said "That doesn't look right." (47)
  • She said "That doesn't look right (47)".
  • She said "That doesn't look right," (47).
  • She said "That doesn't look right" (page 47).

    Commas after Introductory Phrases


    If you begin with a preposition, expect that a comma will soon come after.

    Example prepositions:


    in, on, over, near, below, above, through, beneath, throughout, before, after, during, preceeding, by, next to (and more…)

    Proper use of comma after introductory prepositional phrase:


    In the beginning of the novel, the animals were happy.

    Before the crash, people braced themselves.

    During the poem, imagery is used.



    than versus then


    THEN always implies sequence in time or space:


    I will go to the store then to the restaurant.

    First you'll see the blue house and then the green house.

    THAN always illustrates comparison:


    I am stronger than my brother.

    She is smarter than a fifth grader.

    Helpful Links

    If you do your own online searches for "writing help," be very careful that you don't drift into a "paper mill," where students buy and sell essays. Using an essay from the internet and passing it off as your own work is plagiarism, will be caught, and will be punished severely. As a reminder, my class policy on plagiarism is articulated in my syllabus (see tab above). If you're just looking for help, consider checking out the sites below:

    If you find a link that you think is a great resource and which you find useful, email it to me!