Common Mistakes

Eliminating careless errors from your essay

Mistakes happen. You’ll probably never submit an essay that’s error-free. That said, there are some mistakes that are so easy to avoid making that professors consider them to be inexcusable. Do everything in your power to keep your essay free of these common mistakes:

  • Misspelling. Spell your name correctly. Spell your instructor’s name correctly. Spell the names of all authors whose works you refer to correctly. In fact, just spell every word in the essay correctly. It’s not that hard to do, especially in the age of automatic spell-checkers. Don’t put all your faith in your spell-checker, though. You still need to proofread your essay.
  • Lack of a thesis statement. If you don’t have a clearly stated thesis, you don’t have an essay. You need to argue something. Even if you don’t fully believe it, take one side of the issue.
  • Improper use of the apostrophe. It’s vs. its: There’s a difference. Learn it. Love it. Live it.
  • Improper use of semicolons. Admit it; you don’t even know if the one in this sentence is used properly. They’re not periods, and they’re not commas, so just what are they? They’re the plague. Your best strategy is to avoid them altogether.
  • Too many big words. Your goal should be to make a clear argument, not to sound important. If you aren’t completely sure what a word means, don’t put it in your essay.
  • Vagueness. Essays are supposed to persuade people. If your readers can’t even understand what you’re trying to say, they aren’t going to be convinced by your argument.
  • Awkward transitions. Your goal should be to take your reader down a path as smoothly as possible. Randomly switching from one concept to the next will leave your reader (i.e. your professor, the person who’s grading you) confused and angry.
  • Repetition. You only need to say things once. You only need to say things… you get the point.
  • Clichés. Let’s not beat around the bush: Clichés will render your essay as dead as a doorknob. And if you didn’t get that joke, you might want to run your essay through this handy cliché finder.
  • Personal anecdotes. You might have had the best time of your life at summer camp. Unfortunately, your personal experiences aren’t relevant in an academic essay (unless you’re specifically asked to write about them), so leave the story about your camp crush out of it.
  • Plagiarism. This isn’t always a mistake. Sometimes plagiarism is a deliberate attempt to cheat. Often, though, students get busted for it simply because they don’t understand exactly what it is. Get informed about plagiarism.
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