Common Mistakes to Avoid in Academic Writing

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Academic writing has some strict do’s and don’ts that students must adhere to rigorously. The writing guidelines vary depending on the type of document. However, the writing rules for academic papers remain more or less the same. To avoid pitfalls, you must know what to include and avoid in your academic writing.

All formats of academic writing have a specific purpose and structure. For example, the design of an essay differs from a thesis. Hence, when writing an academic paper, you need to follow specific rules to gain maximum results. Proper planning and research can help you skip the trial and error process.

9 Most Common Mistakes to Avoid in Academic Writing

Let’s take a look at the most common mistakes that people make in academic writing and how you can avoid them:

Passive Voice

The most frequent English academic writing mistake that students make is the profound use of passive voice. Passive voice sentences are indirect as to who is responsible for the intended action. Due to its vague and cumbersome nature, passive sentences are unwelcome in academic writing. 

There are particular instances where passive voice is acceptable. For example, one may use a passive voice for documents like lab reports and research papers. Researchers use passive voice to emphasize the experiment rather than the one conducting the investigation. Hence, they avoid subjective pronouns like “I” or “we” in their papers.

Examples of passive voice are- 

  • Rules are meant to be broken.
  • Some mistakes were made.
  • The report was submitted late.

In the examples mentioned above, it’s unclear who is the “doer.” In a sense, passive voice can absolve the person’s responsibility. This is true in the second instance, “Some mistakes were made.” It’s a vague way of accepting fault. Too many indefinite sentences can be frustrating for the readers.

To achieve a better result in academic papers, it’s always better to use an active voice. When reviewing the report, try to scrutinize every sentence containing is, are, was, and were. If you can convert them into active voices by identifying the subject, you should change them.

A weak thesis statement

A thesis statement serves a fundamental objective in an essay. It indicates the intent and purpose behind the writing process. An ambiguous thesis statement does not adequately convey your paper’s main point or argument. Thus, establishing a focused thesis statement adds strength to your report. 

Most teachers and professors advise their students to state a purpose rather than pose a question. That’s because a question in the form of a thesis statement makes the argument feeble. It does not clarify your position or point of view as a writer. Therefore, it’s best to use concise and direct language in your thesis statement.

Ideally, the thesis statement should be included in the introduction. It informs the reader about the central topic of the paper and/or your perspective on the subject. A solid thesis statement serves as the basis of your academic paper. When the foundation is robust, it makes your research and writing process much more manageable. 

To avoid a vague thesis statement, you must add specific details that answer the question ‘Why?’, ‘When?’, ‘For what?’, and ‘How.’ It should state a definite opinion and be as meticulous as possible. When you begin your dissertation or thesis with a strong opening, it helps you build on it.

Take a look at the side-by-side comparison of a good and weak thesis statement:

Weak- Companies must use social media for both marketing and customer service.

Strong- Social media is a revolutionary platform that allows companies to advertise their products and provide customer support to existing and potential customers.

Informal language

Academic writing requires a formal style and tone. It’s best to avoid informal language for your papers. For example, you should use ‘Cannot’ and ‘Will not’ instead of using words such as ‘Can’t’ and ‘Won’t’. Additionally, you must avoid using first-person and overly personal tones as much as possible.

Your academic writing style should contain subject-specific keywords and formal words. When it comes to transition phrases, you must carefully select the appropriate words. Some transition words that you must avoid are ‘Also,’ ‘So,’ ‘And,’ and ‘Besides.’ Instead, replace them with alternatives such as ‘Moreover,’ ‘Furthermore,’ ‘Therefore,’ ‘Hence,’ and ‘Additionally.’

It is vital for scientific papers such as research essays to replace informal words with technical terms. For example, instead of writing “the result is not very clear,” write “the result is indecisive.”

The general thumb rule in academic writing is that you should always write in a formal tone. Find alternatives for informal words and phrases and utilize them in your paper. This would guarantee you a better grade in the assessment.

Wordiness

Another big no-no in scholarly writing is wordiness. The primary objective of academic writing is to communicate your ideas effectively and clearly. Thus, it’s essential to keep the text concise and direct. Excessive wordiness can obscure the central message. Additionally, it can complicate the reading experience. 

Most students try to extend the word count by adorning the document with jargon and cliches that add no value to the content. Using complicated words is ineffective in conveying the intention. Your sentences must be straightforward. 

Here are some tips to avoid wordiness:

  1. Utilize active voice rather than passive voice verbs.
  2. Strive to use more key nouns in your sentences.
  3. Avoid using unnecessary language.
  4. Try to use verbs rather than nouns to communicate action.
  5. Avoid using a string of prepositional phrases.
  6. Keep a check on the use of squinting modifiers.

Incorrect grammar, punctuation, and spelling

It is no-brainer that your academic documents need to have proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling. You need to pay attention to comma splicing, subject-verb agreement, sentence fragmentation, and vague pronoun usage. The appropriate use of grammar strengthens your writing and highlights your knowledge adequately.

It’s easy to misspell words or leave typos in the document, but it’s completely avoidable. A thorough spell check will ensure that your academic paper is spotless. If your content is laden with spelling errors, it can lower your grade. So make sure you screen the introduction, body paragraphs, and the conclusion before submitting it to your professor. 

Punctuation plays an essential role in the structure of the text. Using the wrong punctuation can undermine the relationship between different actions and ideas. A single comma, semicolon, colon, and apostrophe out of place can completely change the sentence’s meaning. It can lead to confusion in the minds of the reader. Therefore, pay special attention to punctuation to keep your content concise.

Plagiarism

The biggest error one can make in an academic writing sample is committing plagiarism. All academic papers must be cited correctly. Allegations of plagiarism can lead to severe consequences, including expulsion from your college. Hence, you must comb through your report carefully to ensure that it does not contain plagiarized content.

If you do use direct quotes or paragraphs from a source, it’s your responsibility as a writer to give credit to the owner. If you do not cite these sources accurately in your paper, it will be considered plagiarized. Moreover, paraphrasing someone else’s work rather than using your own is also a form of plagiarism.

There is no substitution for originality in academic writing. As a student, you have to do the groundwork to create an authentic piece of work. To avoid plagiarism accusations, you must put all quotes in quotation marks and cite the sources correctly. Furthermore, include a reference list in your document so that your teachers can authenticate the data.  

There are many plagiarism checkers available online. They can help you check the originality of your report. If your sentences or paragraphs are similar to those of other published papers, these tools will highlight them. Such tools are convenient, accessible, and user-friendly. Before submission, be sure to check your documentation and make changes wherever necessary.

Disorganized information

In academic writing, structure and order are crucial. You must ensure that your academic essays have a logical and sequential flow of information. A disorganized paper can harm your overall grade. 

Depending on the type of academic paper, the format will vary. You must adhere to the relevant structural guidelines strictly. The entire content must be divided into paragraphs. Each of these paragraphs must contain the main discussion points and topic sentences.

The information within these paragraphs should be relevant to the main topic or research question. Also, you need to ensure that your sections are not too long or abstract. If there is too much information, you should divide it into subcategories to make it more organized.

The best way to ensure that your report has a good flow is to create an outline before writing the paper. An outline will help you assess how the argument will unfold throughout the essay. You will be able to identify ideas that seem out of place and make suitable modifications. The outline will highlight your organizational problems beforehand and reduce the number of revisions.

Improper use of citation

Most college-level academic papers require reference lists and citations. These lists are for the professor to verify the validity of information and research sources. Inadequate or incorrect use of citation can ruin your hard work and disqualify your paper. You must acknowledge all resources you used while writing your essay.

The proper citation gives credit to the original author and their research. It lets the reader know where you sourced your raw data and what inspired your new idea. You can avoid losing critical marks when you ensure your reference list and citations are correct. Most of these lists are formulaic and easy to create.

Compositions like research papers, thesis, and dissertations require a particular style of citation. Ideally, the university or college decides the formatting and citation guidelines. You can format your report in APA, Chicago, or MLA style as mandated by the institution. 

Not proofreading

If you fail to proofread your report, you run the risk of leaving typos and mistakes. Proofreading is a critical step that you should never miss. It will reduce the chances of your submission getting rejected due to stylistic or grammatical errors. As a writer, you have to ensure that your written content is sensible, accurate, and error-free. So proofreading is a non-negotiable component of academic writing.

When you proofread the finished and edited sample, you find common errors that you missed while composing the content. Proofreading will help you assess if you have nailed the tone and language in the report. You have the choice to check your paper manually. Or you may use a spell check to create a polished and professional-looking document.

Conclusion

An exemplary academic paper is a result of practice and patience. Keeping the tips mentioned above in mind will help you compose an impeccable composition. Once you finish your essay or research paper, dedicate adequate time to edit and revise the content.  This will help you avoid minor errors and free your writing from the worst academic essay writing mistakes. 

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