Academic voice is a difficult concept to capture, and in most cases, is not a topic of direct instruction. In part, this difficulty stems from competing senses of what voice means: Is it personal expression of the writer, a conventional scholarly tone owned by a discipline, or both? Although experienced readers can tell when a piece of academic writing sounds ‘wrong’ (perhaps too descriptive, too informal, too stilted, or too oblique), we might be hard pressed to identify which features of the writing contribute to the sense.
Sentence-level errors can be a frustrating component of working with student writing. Each instance of a sentence-level error breaks the flow of reading and can lend an impression of carelessness or inattention. Faculty members, many of whom are accomplished writers, can spend hours correcting minor errors in student writing, which distracts from the learning goals of the assignment.
Sentence-level errors present a particular challenge for instructors who use writing in their courses. On the one hand, some sentence-level errors are easy to ignore when the meaning of a sentence is unimpeded. If the student understands the commutative property, the Council of Trent, or Ohm’s law, does it matter if they misplace a comma? On the other, the expectation of a particular variety of error-free prose is common enough in school and work settings that a failure to comment can shortchange our students and leave them unprepared for real-world demands.
Few issues create more consternation among instructors than students’ perceived inability to proofread. For many instructors, typographic errors, misspelling, punctuation errors, and errors in tense, reference, and agreement may be signs of inattention to detail or deficiencies in basic skills. It almost seems that the more trivial the error, the more likely the error to solicit frustration, anger, and despair. Unfortunately, frustration with errors tends to multiply as errors multiply, even across drafts and students.