Michelle's independent resources for ESL Students at Vancouver Community College

This is a Canadian ESL blog for Intermediate and Advanced Students who want to learn and improve their English. Each PAGE above contains thousands of free English lessons, tutorials and practice exercises to help you learn and improve your English grammar, reading, listening, pronunciation, speaking, writing and editing. Some of the resources are Canadian. Others are from around the world.

The resources on this Canadian blog are all free, and I spend a lot of my time working on it, so please consider becoming a SUPPORTER. I appreciate all the support I get. It is the fuel that keeps me going.

Membership is FREE.

NOTE: To leave a comment, click on the word "comment" at the bottom of the page. A comment page will pop up.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Great Way to Improve Your Writing

Recently I've noticed that the GRAMMAR  page on this blog is much more popular than the Editing and Error Correction page. 

Why is that? 

Many of you assume that the more you know about grammar and punctuation, the more you will improve your writing. 

That's true, to a point. 

But, it's important for you to remember that grammar is simply a tool to help you improve the way you communicate complex ideas. 

 You should study grammar in order to improve your accuracy in writing and speaking. 

But, if you really want to improve your writing, you actually need to know how to use the grammar accurately in your paragraphs, essays, and reports.

Life is NOT a Multiple Choice Test

I often tell my students that "real life is not a multiple choice test.  When you are in the real world, you will not have the opportunity to choose the right verb tense, connecting word or word form from a multiple choice list with four possibilities. You will have to speak and write  using correct grammar  all by yourself.  

So,.....what's the answer? 

The best way to improve your writing is learning how  proofread and edit mistakes in real  writing rather than just doing grammar exercises,

When you practice finding and correcting grammar, punctuation, and English usage mistakes, you find out how well you understand the rules in real writing. 

And, after you get better at identifying and correcting mistakes in someone  else's writing, you  will  improve your ability to do the same thing in your own. 

An old expressions says that practice makes perfect. But,real success depends on what kind of practice you are doing and whether it is the right kind. 

How to Practice Proofreading and Editing

1.  Start by correcting other people's mistakes
  • Do specific proofreading and editing exercises on my EDITING or COMMON ESL PROBLEMS pages, OTHER writing websites, or in writing improvement textbooks that focus on error correction.   
  • Many of you don't find miss  mistakes in your  own writing because you are too familiar with the content.  You are reading for meaning rather than for grammar or punctuation errors.  As a result, your eye fills in missing words when they aren't there. As well, you      often skip over obvious mistakes because you are focusing on what you wrote instead of  how you wrote it.. 
  •  When you proofread someone else's sentences,  you are NOT reading for meaning. You are specifically looking for grammar, punctuation and usage errors. As a result, these mistakes are much more obvious and likely to jump out at you.

 2.   Practice Correcting the type of errors YOU make
  • Get to know the mistakes that YOU  make most frequently.  All ESL teachers use marking symbols to help you identify your errors. Memorize those symbols, or post them right at your desk so that you can understand your teacher's feedback.   
  • Then, count the type of errors YOU make the most. Do you have a lot of verb tense mistakes? run on sentences?  sentence fragments? missing articles or prepositions? 
  •  Working on verb verb tense consistency  in a real context will teach you more about how we really use verb tenses in writing than simply doing specific exercises in past vs present perfect. 
3. Focus on one type of mistake at a time 
  •  Learn how to identify and correct one type of error at a time. Look for specific tutorials, and practice activities that teach you how to find different types of the same mistake and ways  to correct them.
  •  For example, there are many types of sentence fragment errors. In order to start fixing the problem, you need to understand what kind of mistake you are making. The same applies to other common errors.     
  •  Then, practice correcting that particular type of mistake until learn how to prevent making it, or how to catch and correct it when you DO  make it. 

4.  Start at the sentence level  
  •  Learn how to walk before you run. Develop some control and confidence at finding and fixing mistakes at the sentence level before you move on to longer writing.
  • As you learn how to recognize specific errors in sentences, you will find yourself reviewing grammar rules and learning how to apply them in a real context. 

5.  Move to longer pieces of writing
  •  Once you feel confident proofreading and editing errors in sentences, start doing the same thing with paragraphs and essays.
  • As you begin to improve, find older pieces of your own writing. Proofread and correct this particular mistake in your own compositions and essays. 

 6.  Work on different errors 
  • Each time you feel you have more control over a specific type of mistake, start working on a different. error you commonly make.
  •  Focus on the kind of errors that affect meaning first. These include verb tense, modals, conditionals,  appropriate connectors. 

7.  Work on Multiple errors in paragraphs 
  • As you gain control over specific errors, start practicing proofreading and editing multiple errors in the same paragraph. This is more challenging, but more realistic in terms of what you need to do in the real world.
  •  Start  with practice paragraphs in which the number and type of errors have already been indicated. 
  • Proofread for ONE type of error at a time, using the strategies you have learned. As you finish with one type of error, move on to others.  That way you are more likely to find most of them.   
  •  Make sure you read each sentence out loud as slowly as you can so that you can hear each individual word. You are much more likely to "hear" mistakes, or even notice missing words with your ears than with your eyes. ,
  •  Finally, work on proofreading and editing paragraphs and essays  where you have to find all types of errors by yourself.  

With Control Comes Confidence 

Nothing succeeds like success. The more you improve your ability to clean up mistakes in your own writing, the more you you will feel that you have regained some control. The more control you gain, the more you will want to improve even more. 

The improvement in your writing will speak for itself. The gift you will be giving yourself is the gift of renewed confidence in your ability to communicate effectively. 

There is nothing more empowering than knowing that you are successfully communicating ideas in a second language  in the same ways as you conveyed them in your first language.


To practice proofreading and editing go to my EDITING PAGE , or COMMON  ESL PROBLEMS PAGE . You will also find more information on useful websites and textbooks to help improve your proofreading and editing skills 

Do you have anything else to recommend or add ? I welcome all comments. 


  1. Hi Michelle, I have to admit that I have wasted you lot of time to mark my writing because I don't quite understand all marking symbols. Could you make a button on the top beside "writing" to explain the marking symbols? That would be very helpful for the students who are learning writing with you. Thanks! Tony

  2. Hi Tony,
    I will try to post my marking symbols on both the WRITING and EDITING PAGES near the top. Go to those pages and look for the expression "MARKING SYMBOLS." If you still have problems finding them, let me know. You DO,however, already have a hard copy which I gave you at the beginning of the term. You might want to look in your binder.

    Have a great holiday,


If you do not have a web site, or a Google account, click on Name/URL and simply leave your name. You do NOT need to be a member to leave a comment.