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Using Error Logs in L2 Writing

Accuracy matters, especially when it comes to L2 writing. When academic and professional fields demand high standards in writing accuracy, ESL/EFL teachers need resources that will help develop both the students writing and the writer himself. Research suggests that error charts can be used to raise awareness of error frequency, motivate students and increase accuracy in L2 writing. By systematically recording written errors by category, students are made aware of the frequencies of their errors and can begin to prioritize their time and attention to resolving the root issues. Over time, students begin to see their progress (or lack thereof) and may be motivated to press on toward improving their writing accuracy. An error logging tool holds useful potential for teachers and students, but it is not auto-powered. To get the most out of it, students need to be trained and held accountable as they use error logs alongside other classroom instruction and self-editing resources. Error logs are best used as part of a battery of self-editing practices.

Suggestions for Using Error Logs

Based on my classroom research, here are some caveats and advice for using error logs in the classroom. 1. Give clear instructions about how to use the chart, including the purpose of the chart and an explanation of your essay marking strategy (i.e., Will you grade all errors comprehensively? Only certain types of errors for certain types of writing?). 2. Keep it simple and mark papers with consistency, whether with direct or indirect feedback. Use fewer error codes to make it easier to mark and tally errors consistently. Also, if you are using logs in process writing, track errors on the final draft for summative assessment of their progress. 3. Do not try to attend to all errors at once. Once key problem areas are determined for each student, prioritize attention to serious errors that impede understanding and frequent, distracting errors. Incorporate supplemental mini-grammar lessons or activities to help students practice problematic areas (Bates, L., Lane, J., & Lange, E., 1993 and Ferris, 1995). 4. Monitor student progress and keep them motivated and accountable with a grade. Refer to the chart regularly as a reminder and integrate it into classroom activities such as other editing exercises. 5. Avoid discouragement by reminding students that error logs are simply a tool to make them aware of weak writing areas. Calculate error percentages for each essay rather than raw scores. Total errors / total word count = error percentage.

Bates, L., Lane, J., & Lange, E. (1993). Writing clearly: Responding to ESL compositions. Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle. Ferris, D. R. (1995). Can advanced ESL students become effective self-editors? The CATESOL Journal, 8, 41-62. Lalande, J. F. (1982). Reducing composition errors: An experiment. Modern Language Journal, 66, 140-149.

Robyn Dingfelder, Biola University MA TESOL student, CATESOL Poster Session, March 2014

Reading/Writing 4

Error Frequency Chart


Place a tally mark for each error that your teacher marks on your assignment.

Noun Errors

Essay 1 Essay 2 Essay 3 (Plural endings, articles and determiners)

Essay 4

Essay 5

Verb Errors

(verb tense, subject/verb agreement)

Sentence Structure Errors

(Sentence fragments, run-ons, comma splices, unnecessary words, word order, connect sentences, subordinates)


Punctuation Errors

(Comma, semicolon, quotation mark, apostrophe, Capitalization)

, ; C

Miscellaneous Errors

(Spelling, wrong word/word form, preposition use, pronoun reference, conjunctions)


Content & Organizational Errors

(Off topic, topic sentence, needs further support, transitions, new paragraph, conclusion)


Created by Joann Anderson and Robyn Dingfelder (2014). Adapted from Dana Ferris (1995).