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After some research, I have become more confused than before. Which is correct?

The students were writing at their desks. But upon closer examination, the writing on the paper turned out to be illustrations.

The students were writing at their desks. But upon closer examination, the writings on the papers turned out to be illustrations.

The students were writing at their desks. But upon closer examination, the writing on the papers turned out to be illustrations.

Thank you.

closed as off-topic by Edwin Ashworth, Jason Bassford, JJJ, Chappo, Mari-Lou A Sep 19 at 13:55

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  • Are illustrations 'writing'? Are scare-quotes necessary? // And please be aware that reasonable research (whether it confuses one or not) should be shown with linked attributions on ELU. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 6 at 19:04
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None of the three sentences you wrote is ungrammatical. However, the sentences differ in meaning.

writing on the paper

This implies that the students were all drawing their own illustrations on the same sheet of paper. Perhaps it was a large sheet draped over all their desks.

writings on the papers

This implies that there were several sheets of paper. Perhaps each student has their own.

writing on the papers

This likewise implies that there were several sheets of paper, perhaps with each student having their own.

If you want the sentence to be consistent with each student having their own piece of paper, I would suggest that you use the plural "papers". You may use either "writing" or "writings", depending on your preference.

My reasoning is that "writing" may be interpreted as a mass noun in Sentences 1 and 3, and "writings" may be interpreted as a count noun in Sentence 2. However, "paper" is a count noun (i.e., it refers to a sheet of paper, not the material of paper), and thus should be plural if the students are writing on more than one sheet of paper.

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