Is Surface Grammar Really That Important?

I had a session earlier this week at the writing center with a writer, and by the end of the session I was so pissed off. Now, it has nothing to do with the writer, she was actually really nice to work with. What annoyed me was her professor. I’ve been an English major for the past three years and I’ve worked at the writing center for about two years. This has shaped the way I view writing. When I have sessions where the writer wants to work on “grammar,” I cringe a bit. Now, most of the time, grammar to people means punctuation, spelling, etc. I think of this as more of surface grammar, things that are easy to correct, but don’t necessarily affect the content of the paper.


In this case, the writer wanted to work of surface grammar. BUT only because her professor focused on that during his evaluation and critique of her first draft. There are still plenty of professors that grade on surface grammar. For some reason, they are fixated on spelling and punctuation. It’s almost like a fetish to them, that’s how much attention they put on surface grammar. I honestly hate it. And for many reasons. One, it discourages the writer when there is a plethora of marks all over their paper focusing on every single grammatical mistake. The writer in my session started of the session by saying, “I’m not a good writer.” This annoyed me. I feel like no one will ever get the hang of surface grammar, not even me, and I’m an English major with a minor in writing!


Another reason I dislike the idea that surface grammar is important is that what’s really important is the content of the paper. Is the topic intriguing? Did the writer achieve their purpose? Did the audience understand the writer’s purpose? How is the flow of the paper? Are there any structural problems? Is there an idea that needs to be expanded? That’s what I ask myself when I’m going over a paper with a writer. I stress that surface grammar isn’t so important. I feel like this gives writers more confidence in their writing.


I really wish professors would stop grading so hard on surface grammar. To an extent, surface grammar is necessary, but it is not what’s important in a paper.

Fernando lopez

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