Writing an academic essay can be a challenging task for many. However, since writing is an integral part of one’s academic journey, it is essential to learn about the common pitfalls to avoid in formal writing. While good writing skills are often perfected only through practice, perseverance, and sometimes trial and error, there are certain mistakes that appear in many academic essays that can be eliminated outright.
One of the crucial steps to help avoid mistakes in academic writing is allocating sufficient time for planning and researching the essay. Effective planning can help avoid incomplete or weak arguments and insufficient supporting evidence due to a lack of proper research, among other things. While these are steps that can be taken before beginning the actual writing process, let’s take a look at a few problems that can occur while writing an essay.
- Writing a purpose statement instead of a thesis statement: In many essays, one would come across statements that read, “In this essay, I will detail…”, “This essay will discuss…”, etc. While these statements can be mistaken for thesis statements, these declarative sentences are, in fact, purpose statements. They do not belong in an academic essay. They appear in abstracts or organizational mission statements. Thesis statements, on the other hand, while also declarative, do not overtly state the writer’s intentions or the purpose of the essay. Instead, they make assertions that the rest of the essay will support. Here is an example of a good thesis statement: “The overdependence on smartphones among the youth has led to a decrease in social interactions and a rise in mental health problems.” This statement clearly states the writer’s opinion about the smartphone problem without directly referring to the writer. It also lists the reasons for the problem, clearly indicating that these are the issues the writer will discuss in detail in the body of the essay. Therefore, it is essential to distinguish between a thesis and a purpose statement and use the appropriate tool in academic writing.
- Summarizing: Often, when asked to discuss a character or plot elements in a literary piece, students tend to write down the summary of the events in the work they are discussing. Plot summaries are not an effective way to present arguments in an academic essay, and students run the danger of appearing as if they are using it as filler material to meet the required word count. Here is an example of a plot summary: “Scout and Jem Finch were attacked by Bob Ewell as they returned from school when Boo Radley thwarted the attacker and saved the children.” Instead, rephrasing this sentence to read “When Boo Radley saved Scout and Jem Finch from Bob Ewell’s attack, he transformed from an entity they feared to a friendly, protective figure,” makes it a signifier that illustrates the character development of Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird. As the above example shows, writing out the synopsis of a literary work can act as a deterrent to effectively supporting one’s arguments in an essay, and therefore, should be avoided at all costs.
- Plagiarizing: Unfortunately, plagiarism is one pitfall of bad writing that students can easily fall into. Students often collect ideas and arguments from other sources while researching their essay and do not appropriately cite the sources while writing out their paper. This can lead to serious consequences that can go as far as academic suspension. To avoid plagiarism, especially accidental plagiarism, it is essential to make a note of all the sources one plans to use in their essay during the research process. In addition, a sound understanding of the citation format that needs to be applied—be it the MLA, the APA, the Chicago, or the Harvard styles—is necessary as each format might sometimes require differing details about the source. Furthermore, one cannot merely mention a piece of sourced information in their essay and leave it at that. One needs to further elaborate to tie that relevant quote, fact, or argument to the point they are making in their essay. A thorough proofreading and fact-checking after the first draft is written is yet another key step one can take to avoid plagiarism.
Keeping these mistakes in mind while writing an essay can help one avoid writing weak and ineffectual arguments. It can also help make the post-writing review process easier as there would be fewer changes to make. What other common essay writing mistakes have you come across?