Taking a Writing Inventory
One way to begin actively learning from your mistakes is to take a writing inventory. Taking
inventory helps you think critically and analytically about how to improve your writing skills.
To create a personal writing inventory, follow these steps:
1. Collect copies of two or three pieces of writing you have done, making sure to select
pieces to which either your instructor or other students have responded.
2. Read through this writing, adding your own comments about its strengths and
3. Examine the instructor and peer comments very carefully, and compare them with your
4. Group all the comments into three categories—broad content issues, organization and
presentation, and surface errors.
Broad content issues
include use of evidence, use of sources, achieving purpose,
attention to audience, and overall impression.
Organization and presentation
include overall organization, sentence-level
organization and style, paragraph structure, the mechanics of documenting
sources, and formatting choices.
Surface errors include problems with spelling, grammar, and punctuation and
See the top twenty problems in student writing.
5. Make an inventory of your own strengths in each category.
6. Study your errors. Mark every instructor and peer comment that suggests or calls for an
improvement and put them all in a list.
7. Look for help in areas where you need it. You can consult the relevant parts of The
Everyday Writer (check the index and tables of contents to find specific help) or speak to
your instructor for clarification.
8. Make up a priority list of three or four particular writing problems you have identified, and
write out a plan for improvement.
9. Note at least two strengths you want to build on in your writing.
10.Record your findings in a writing log (a notebook or computer file in which you record
comments and observations about your writing), which you can add to as the class
Broad Content Issues
As a writer, you are in some ways like the supervisor of a large construction job: you must
assemble all the ideas, words, evidence, and so on into one coherent structure. Doing so calls
on you to attend carefully to several big questions: What is the purpose of your writing? To
whom is it addressed? What points does it make? Does it fully develop, support, or prove those