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9 Mistakes that Can Potentially Ruin Your Academic Essay

Who knows that better than a student who has just lost some crucial marks in his exam because he couldn’t proofread his essay paper before submitting? Well, it does sting knowing the fact that the debacle could have been avoided if only he had spared enough time to proofread the copy and fix the errors before the final bell rang. Sheer bad luck! What else can you say? The situation may sound relatable to you because, let’s admit, we all have been in the same place before and more often than not have lost some precious marks because of some silly mistakes which should not have been made in the first place.

While there are several different ways to fix the writing mistakes made while drafting an essay, it is important to acknowledge those errors which are a potential threat to your grades. You must have heard a proverb that is used in the warfare; "Know your enemy". Academics is nothing less than a battlefield and the errors can be your worst enemy here, stopping you from achieving your academic goal. Being aware of the common writing mistakes can not only help you fix them but can also stop you from making those mistakes in the first place. 

Academic writing, as you might have noticed, is little different than any regular form of writing. Here, fixing the grammatical and punctuation errors isn’t the only thing that should be your concern. You need to delve deeper to identify the mistakes that can cost you some significant amount of marks. Since academic essays are technically unavoidable while you are still in school or college, it is absolutely necessary for you to learn about these errors so that you can finish your education with impressive grades.

Here are some of the writing mistakes that are commonly made by the students while drafting their essays.

1.    Inconsistency in the tense

Students often think that if it sounds okay, then it is correct. Well, that is the first mistake right there. When you are writing an academic essay, you need to focus on which tense you are using to draft your essay. You can’t just start your essay with present tense and then switch to past tense in the middle and again come back to present tense. Even if that sounds okay, it shouldn’t be exercised while drafting an academic essay.

If you are using the present tense in the essay, use it consistently. The same thing goes for the use of past tense as well. Generally, either of these two is acceptable. The only guideline that matters here is to be consistent with the use of the tense.
E.g.: Shawn loves to take out Serena for romantic dates, but Serena liked to sit on her couch and watch football matches. – Wrong 
Shawn loves to take out Serena for romantic dates, but Serena likes to sit on her couch and watch football matches. – Correct

2.    Writing a synopsis instead of an analysis

There are several types of essays that you have to encounter in your academic career, and interestingly all these essay types have their own set of requirements. In most of the cases, you are asked to provide a complete analysis of an issue (an event or any piece of literature or art). However, a number of students fail to understand the requirement and end up presenting a synopsis instead of an analysis. When you are in a high school or college, you are expected to know the difference between a synopsis and an analysis.

You need to understand that an essay is more of an evaluation of what you have learned. Describing the lessons in five paragraphs is not the thing that you are asked to do. Essays generally want to know what you feel about the lesson, what are your opinions about a certain issue, and if you are presenting a particular opinion what are your arguments for that. Instead of simply stating the fact, essays need you to bring out the significance and true meaning of the topic in the form of a compelling analysis.
E.g.: Lisa kept staring at the sky from her window for days, only to remind herself that there’s a world outside the four walls. – Synopsis
Lisa’s concealed desire to be free from her confinement is skillfully expressed through her actions, where she keeps reminding herself that there is much more to the world beyond the four walls that are keeping her incarcerated. – Analysis

3.    Using incomplete sentences

This is basic grammar. You cannot leave a sentence incomplete, especially when there are marks at stake. It is a classic rookie mistake to use incomplete sentences in your academic essay. Every complete sentence must include a subject and a verb, which you may already know. It may seem like an easy thing to comply with, but you will be surprised know how many incomplete sentences students use in their essays in every attempt. What happens is that students start constructing a complex sentence to describe something in their essays and then halfway through it, forget to finish the sentence they have started.

As mentioned before, this is an elementary mistake which can never be expected from a high school/college student. Another reason why students leave tons of incomplete sentences in their copy is that during the proofreading session, those sentences often seem okay, given the fact that here the writer is the proofreader. A better way to deal with such sentences is to get it checked by another person, which is inconvenient if you are sitting in an exam hall. The best way is to avoid the mistake is, however, to understand the mistake and stop yourself from making it while writing. 
E.g.: While most of the international students, who come to study in Dubai, struggle initially to get an accommodation in the country. – The sentence starts with “while”, but there is no clause to finish the sentence. The sentence could have started from “most” which would have made sense, or else, could include some clause that would fit the sentence.

4.    Composing a poor thesis statement

Thesis statement, as you may already know, is a crucial part of an academic essay. It provides the reader with a clear idea of what to expect from the essay. A compelling thesis statement can be very effective at poking the interests of the readers, which ultimately adds more value to the essay, but unfortunately a lot of students don’t even know how to compose a proper thesis statement. Some students just leave a poorly constructed thesis statement in their essay just to fulfill the requirements of the essay.

As mentioned before, a thesis statement plays a crucial part in an academic essay, and in order to compose a remarkable essay, you need to provide your readers with a compelling thesis statement which will grab their attention at the beginning of the essay. There’s no particular hack to fix poor thesis statements. However, you can get better at composing good thesis statements with practice and perseverance.
E.g.: Humans should start relocating to other inhabitable planets. – It’s a poorly written thesis statement that does not include any supporting opinions or any particular explanation why humans should relocate to other planets.
Earth is already experiencing population explosion, and it’s only a matter of time when it will no longer be habitable for humans, leaving relocating to another planet the only viable option to save the human race from extinction. – This statement not only provokes the mind of the readers but also provides enough details about the arguments that are going to be explored through the essay.

5.    Using too many quotes

The essay is a medium to evaluate your knowledge and understanding of a certain subject. Here, you need to showcase your researching skills as well as your creativity to explain a certain issue with proper arguments and supporting pieces of evidence. Quotations can be useful when you are using them as an evidence to prove your point, but using them far too often can back-fire you as well. Firstly, the essay should be more about your analysis of the topic and less about describing it through others’ words.

As you might already be aware, an academic essay has a strict limit of word counts, so if you are using too many quotes there, it will not only eat up the allotted space in the essay but also make the essay look like a collection of quotations instead of critical analysis. It is okay to use quotation in the essay if only the original author mentioned why he/she had mentioned a particular thing (because practically, it can't be explained better by anyone else) or you are using the quote from the concerning text to convey the tone of the story.
E.g.: “Alive, Miss Emily had been a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town…” – the Quote (from William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”)
When Miss Emily was alive, she had been a sort of responsibility for the town people with all that heredity she bore. – A paraphrased version of the quote that carried the same meaning.

6.    Stealing someone else’s work

Plagiarism is a serious offence as it violates the ethical conduct in academics. If you are using someone else’s work for your essay paper and claiming it as your own finding, then it’s basically stealing, and it is not tolerated in the academic arena. In fact, if you are leaving traces of plagiarism in your essay (even if it was made unintentionally) it can land you in some serious trouble like facing detention, suspension or even expulsion. When you are using someone’s quote in your essay, if you don’t acknowledge its source, it is also considered as an act of plagiarism.

A lot of students refer to sample essays and other academic assignments written on the same line to gain a better understanding of the subject, but at times the influence reflects prominently on the essay they prepare, categorizing the essay as plagiarised content. To avoid such mishaps, you can either cite the content, by acknowledging the sources of information or introduce the idea with a new angle with absolutely fresh content. However, it is always better to come up with your own thesis, analysis and ideas with supporting evidence gathered by conducting credible research work.

7.    The use of contractions

The use of contractions may help you save some valuable space in your Twitter post, but that does not work for academic papers. Even though people use contractions in every single document these days, it is inaccurate to use them in your essay.  Avoid using words such as won’t, don’t, isn’t, can’t, it’s, unless it is taken directly from a text as a quote. Instead, use will not, do not, is not, cannot, it is, etc.

8.    Using the second person in the narrative

It is okay to use second person pronoun you in a blog or an online article to address the audience as they are informal in nature. Academic essays, on the other hand, are strictly formal and should always be written in the third person using the pronoun one. It comes with the basic guideline of academic writing. You can't use the second person to explain the analysis you have done. Maintain a strict informal tone throughout the essay for maximum accuracy.
E.g.: You won’t be able to understand the context of that particular action if you don’t know the rest of the story. – Wrong
One cannot understand the context of the particular action if one does not know the rest of the story. – Correct

9.    Bibliography errors

If you are unaware of what bibliography is, then you need to educate yourself about that particular section of academic writing. Whether it is an essay, a dissertation or a term paper, a bibliography is used to make a list of all the books, articles or other sources of information that are used in the paper for reference. However, that is not the end of the story. There are hard and fast rules of listing all the sources in the bibliography. There are several formatting styles which are followed worldwide, and when you are assigned with an academic essay, you are also asked to follow a certain formatting style. 

You need to cite the resources according to the particular style (MLA, APA, Harvard, Chicago or other). Since your essay needs to have an original analysis on the asked topic, you need to do in-depth research by going through multiple documents (books, articles, journals, manuscripts and more). So you should know that you have to enlist a huge number of sources in your bibliography. The process can be a little tedious, but this much you have to endure to get better marks for your essay paper.
These are some of the critical errors that can jeopardize your academic essay and eventually cost you some valuable marks. However, you can educate yourself about these mistakes and stop yourself from committing such errors while writing an essay. Remember, you won't have to go back and fix the errors in your essay if you never make them in the first place.

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