EFL writing checklist

Read your writing aloud, if possible, or sound the words in your head.

While you’re reading, use this checklist to check for common mistakes:

1. Spelling

Spelling in another language is difficult. But there is an easy way to find the correct spelling. If you are not sure, look in a dictionary. For example, the Cambridge Learner’s Dictionary is specially designed for learners of English and is free to use online https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/learner-english/

You can also read about spelling in English and common spelling errors, here:

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/writing/spelling

Here are the top 10 words that are spelt incorrectly in Write & Improve: 

Top 10

Because

Beautiful

People

Language

Different

Important

Writing

Going

Opportunity

Technology

And here are the 50 words that are most often spelt incorrectly by learners using Write & Improve:

Start by learning how these words are spelt. Write down the words you find difficult to spell and try to remember them.

2. Punctuation

Check that your punctuation is correct. 

  • Does each sentence start with a capital (big) letter and end with a full stop?
  • Do all your questions end with question marks? 
  • Have you used apostrophes correctly when using short forms and talking about possession?  

Tip: We usually add 's to a word to show that something belongs to it. If the word is plural and ends in 's', we just add '. We also use an apostrophe (') to show that we have taken out one or more letters when we join two words. 

  • Have you started a new paragraph for each new part of your discussion or story? 
  • Should some of the words you have written be two words, instead of one? Or one word, instead of two? e.g. an other -> another, infact -> in fact, life style -> lifestyle 
  • Should some of the words you have written begin with a capital letter? 

Tip: days of the week, months of the year, cities, countries, languages, names of people, all begin with a capital letter. Seasons of the year – spring, summer, autumn, winter do not.

3. Grammar

As you read through your writing, be aware of the grammar and look for these common mistakes: Articles - a/an and the:

  • Do you need to add or remove a, an or the?
  • Have you chosen the correct article – a or an?

Tip: We use 'a' before consonant sounds (for example, before new, special, university) and 'an' before vowel sounds (for example, before important, old, exam, umbrella). 

 Do your determiners agree with your nouns and verbs?

Tip: Determiners and the words they belong with must ‘agree’ (i.e. be all singular or all plural - for example, this cat is black/these cats are black).

Verb tenses 

Different forms of verbs show whether something is in the past, the present or the future. 

Have you chosen the correct form of the verb in every case?

When we want to show if something is in the past, present, or future, we sometimes add an auxiliary verb (for example do/did, are/was, will, could) before the main verb. 

  • Do you need to add any auxiliary verbs?
  • Verb forms

When a verb follows another verb, the second verb is sometimes in the infinitive form with to (for example, I need to write an essay) and sometimes in the infinitive form without to (for example, I must write an essay), and sometimes, in the -ing form (for example, I enjoy writing essays). 

  • Have you used the correct forms of the verbs after other verbs?

When a verb follows a preposition (e.g. to, for, of, about), the verb is always in the -ing form, e.g. I’m not used to speaking English.   

  • Have you used the correct form of the verb after prepositions?
  • Subject and verb agreement

Verbs and the words they belong with must ‘agree’ (i.e. be all singular or all plural - for example, the cat is black/the cats are black).  

  • Do your verbs ‘agree’ with the words they describe?

4. Vocabulary

Prepositions

Some adjectives have prepositions that go with them (e.g. interested in, worried about, full of).

Do any adjectives in your writing need a preposition? Do they have the correct one? Use a learner's dictionary to help you. 

Some verbs have prepositions that go with them (for example, approve of, listen to, talk about). 

Do any verbs in your writing need a preposition? Do they have the correct one?

Common error alert!: Look out for common preposition errors with at, on and in!

  • We use in with geographical location, e.g. Brazil, the street, the city, the world, the park, London, the countryside (many learners use at, on and of + location, when they should use in + location)
  • We use in with periods of time, e.g. history, my life, old age, the past, five minutes

Adjectives

Sometimes we add something to the end of a noun or verb to form an adjective? (e.g. relaxed, relaxing, advanced, stressed, stressful). 

Are all your adjectives correctly formed? 

Should any of your adjectives end in -ed or -ing

Remember: 

Adjectives with -ing and -ed endings have different meanings. 

-ing adjectives describe what something or someone is like, e.g. boring, interesting.

-ed adjectives describe how someone feels about something or someone, e.g. bored, interested.

  • Have you used the correct -ing- or -ed adjectives?

Common error alert! We never add plural endings (-s, -ies) to adjectives to describe more than one of a thing, e.g. interestings books -> interesting books 

  • Are all your adjectives singular (i.e. without -s on the end)?
  • Nouns

Have you checked for commonly confused nouns? 

History - > story

Travel -> trip or journey

Work -> job

House -> home

Career -> degree

Web -> website

Professor -> teacher

Idiom -> language

  • Collocations (word partners) 

There are verbs and nouns that belong together – we call them 'collocations'. For example, we say make mistakes, but we say do homework

  • Have you used the correct collocations (word partners)?

Tip: when you learn new nouns, find out which verbs they most often appear with – some typical verbs are make and do. Here are some more examples with make and do:

do the washing up, do your best, do business, do research, do experiments, do sightseeing, do sports, do harm

make mistakes, make improvements, make progress, make arrangements, make an effort, make a choice, make a noise, make a payment, make an investment

  • Do the verbs and nouns in your writing belong together? 

Here you can watch a video of a Facebook Live sessions with Diane Nicholls from Write & Improve talking about Common Mistakes in English Writing and How to Correct Them:
 

One final tip

Tip: After you have made your changes, read your writing again. Sometimes, when you correct one mistake, you create another one!

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