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Most Common Mistakes in Student Essays

Fret not, for we've all been there. We've all gotten back essays with red marks strewn across them. Everyone makes mistakes. Even professors. Students, writers, and teachers all need a little reminder of what not to do. So, we've compiled a list of the top ten mistakes made in student essays. You may relate to some, and not to others. Regardless, these are the most "popular" errors and little ways to avoid them in your next paper.

  1. No thesis
    • Explanation: As simple as it seems, most people often neglect the single most important sentence in the entire essay. A thesis is your basic argument — your "tag line." If you could sum up the debate in your essay in one sentence, this would be it: the thesis.
    • Fix: While there are always exceptions to the rule, it is advisable to place your thesis statement at the end of your introductory paragraph. It should consist of the general argument and the ways (evidence you plan to use) to prove it.
  2. No conclusion
    • Explanation: People sometimes stop writing an essay before it ends. A summary (or denouement) is always required in essay writing.
    • Fix: Very simple. You do not need to add anything new (although you can) to this paragraph. Just add an extra small paragraph to the end of your paper summarizing what you have just said. Essentially your introductory paragraph more complex.
  3. No evidence
    • Explanation: The evidence in essays is with documentation, research, quotations. An essay without evidence proves absolutely nothing and will become pure opinion. Evidence makes fact. Think of yourself as a lawyer and bringing in specific items to prove your point in a court of law.
    • Fix: Go to the library. Look on the internet. You must have at least one piece of evidence (quotation, paraphrased idea) from a book, article, documented source, for each idea you try to prove.
  4. Misuse of commas
    • Explanation: People use commas in different ways. They are generally used in series of nouns and to separate to clauses in a sentence. If this confuses you, then seek out a grammar book or ask your professor/teacher for help.
    • Fix: Find a grammar book (we recommend STRUNK AND WHITE). Look through your essay purely for commas. If you are looking at your text for nothing more than commas, then you are sure to take out unnecessary commas and put in necessary ones.
  5. Plagiarism
    • Explanation: Plagiarism is when you take another person's writing, fact, text, and use it as your own. Unfortunately, some students do this purposely, while others accidentally fall into the trap.
    • Fix: Always, always, always cite your facts! Document any quotation and all facts you use in your essays with either footnotes or internal documentation. Do not make the mistake of forgetting to cite information that you have paraphrased. Sometimes (with picky professors) this can be considered plagiarism, too.
  6. Spelling errors/Typos
    • Explanation: This is pretty self-explanatory. Often, people leave spelling mistakes in their essays (which can be typos, but not necessarily), and lose easy points.
    • Fix: Do not simply use your computer's spell-check feature, as it often overlooks words. Do a read-through of your essay just for spelling.
  7. Punctuation problems
    • Explanation: People also encounter punctuation problems often in essays, which includes semi-colon, colon, period, misplaced participles, etc.
    • Fix: Read through your essay solely for punctuation. Make sure you end every sentence with a period, exclamation mark, or question mark in the correct place.
  8. Lack of transitional phrases
    • Explanation: When new paragraphs begin, they always need a transition, or a sentence ending the previous idea and leading into the next.
    • Fix: Go through your essay and look at beginning of each paragraph. Read the paragraphs as independent mini-essays. If they make sense alone, they probably have a transition. If not, add just a simple sentence introducing the idea.
  9. Lack of structure
    • Explanation: Essays, like buildings, need structure. They need a beginning, middle, and an end. In the middle, they need substance.
    • Fix: Create an outline for your essay. Follow it!
  10. Repetition
    • Explanation: When an essay discusses the same idea in every single paragraph, it borders on boredom and repetition. The writer obviously has little to say (and probably has done little work).
    • Fix: Make sure each paragraph has a different focus. Use your outline to guide you.