Introduction to error analysis and correction

This page introduces the error and text analyses on this part of the site. The information is written for teachers, but advanced students may find the contents interesting and useful.


This section of the site contains several authentic texts written by ESL students at varying levels of English proficiency. In most cases these are summaries of stories they have read. And naturally they contain mistakes of various kinds.

The intention is to give learner visitors to this site practice in identifying and correcting the mistakes made by the ESL students. This should help them to gain an awareness of the most typical language errors, as well as to identify and correct their own mistakes.

The following mistakes were made by beginning ESL students. The task was to write a summary and reflection on the life of Joseph Merrick, who came to be known as the Elephant Man.


He had loose clothes so nobody can see his body.
He didn't talked so clearly. When he lied down his neck breaked.
Many people was afraid of him.
But Dr Treves helped him having an easier life.


He had 2 operation to take out the lumps of skin.
His left hand was normal and right hand was size of elephant's trunk.
He took off his glasses and put it on the table.


word order
The guy that took care of him gave him in the hospital his own room.
reported speech
I want to know how did Joseph Merrick make such a beautiful model.
sentence fragments
Because his right leg was like an elephant's.
run-on sentences
August 5 in Lee Street Joseph Merrick was born when he was born his body was terrible.


word choice
The operator cut skin from his head.
Merrick went asleep.


He's name was Joseph Merrick. On his back their was a ball of skin.
His left hand was like a 10 year old girls hand.
He couldn't walk like a Human.

Error correction research

Teachers can, of course, identify the errors their students have made, but to what extent should they make the students aware of them. And in what way should this be done?

These are the thorny questions at the heart of research into the efficacy of error correction. There is presently no definitive advice that the teacher can apply. As Fathman and Whalley (1990) point out:

... there is little agreement among teachers or researchers about how teachers should respond to student writing.

Personal position on error correction

My own position on this issue is that the identification of all the mistakes in a piece of written work is senseless, and can be counterproductive. It sends the message to students that a piece of writing can only be good if it contains no mistakes, or, conversely, that a piece of writing with no mistakes must be good.

It implies that mistakes are to be avoided at all costs and it counteracts the important lesson that language cannot be produced or learned without making mistakes.

I want to encourage my students to write in English from the first day. I don't want to discourage them by returning their efforts covered in the inevitable red ink. It is clear, therefore, that I do not alert students to all or even most of the mistakes such as those that I have identified in the error analysis pages of this website.

However, studies have shown that, in certain circumstances, students can learn from having writing problems identified to them. The key is to know which student, at any given stage of his language development, will benefit from which kind of feedback on which kind of error. There are no easy answers. Effective, useful error correction requires principled, case-by-case decisions.

Interactive error correction quizzes

There are several interactive quizzes on the in the Other grammar: Error correction drop-down menu on the Grammar index.

These quizzes contain texts which include a number of deliberate grammar mistakes for students to find and correct.

Two language analysis tools

This section of the site has two pages on which you can analyse texts of your choice to gain insights into grammar and usage:


As noted above, error correction is a complex issue with some widely conflicting interpretations of research studies. Interested teachers are recommended to refer to the sources listed below:

  • Cohen, A. D., & Cavalcanti, M. C. "Feedback on compositions: Teacher and student verbal reports." In Second Language Writing: Research Insights for the Classroom. Ed. B.Kroll. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990. 155-77.
  • Fathman, A. K., & Whalley, E. "Teacher response to student writing: Focus on form versus content." In Second Language Writing: Research Insights for the Classroom. Ed. B. Kroll.Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990. 178-90.
  • Ferris, D. "Response to student writing: Implications for second language students." Erlbaum, 2003.
  • Truscott, John. "The case against grammar correction in L2 writing classes." Language Learning 46:2 (1996):327-69.
  • Zamel, V. "Responding to student writing." TESOL Quarterly 19 (1985): 79-101.

Go to Error analysis 1.