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Top 10 Errors Made by Undergraduate Writers

Freshman year is tough, especially when you get back that first paper and it’s covered in red ink. If you want to avoid the editorial eye of your professor, be on the lookout for these 10 errors made by most undergraduate writers.

  1. Improper use of commas
  2. Run-on sentences, incorrect listing, and missing commas after an introductory clause: these are just a few ways to mess up your sentences. Grab a guide and do a little reading to make sure you avoid this pitfall.

  3. Run-on sentences
  4. Commas aren’t the only thing that can cause a run-on sentence. Anytime two sentences are mashed together as one, with or without a comma, bad grammar is afoot. The quickest way to tell if you have a run-on sentence is to see if you can split it up to form more than one complete sentence. Here’s an example:

    Howard likes cheese he eats at school.

    This sentence is confusing for many reasons. Does Howard only like cheese that he eats at school? It would be better to write:

    Howard likes cheese. He eats it at school.

    Two sentences, and now it’s clear that Howard likes all cheese; and he eats cheese at school.

  5. Colons and semicolons
  6. A semicolon is used to separate an independent clause from a dependent clause. It can also be used to separate items in a long list, especially if items within that listing require commas to create subcategories. For instance:

    Rachel loves all her hobbies. She likes to paint pictures of horses, kangaroos, and apples; partake in sports such as lacrosse, soccer, and baseball; and hang out with her friends Judy, Marie, and Tom.

    A colon is used to connect two independent clauses that are related, or to separate an explanation from a fully formed sentence. For instance:

    Kathy went to the bookstore, but she was disappointed: they didn’t have what she was looking for.

    Bert needed something for work: an updated computer.

  7. Incorrect word usage
  8. Many people confuse some common words such as there/they’re/their; it/its/it’s; than/then; affect/effect; and more. Look up commonly mistaken words to make sure you don’t misuse any in your papers.

  9. Citation Errors
  10. This one is going to be hard to avoid because experience is the best teacher. Most undergraduates make mistakes in their citations precisely because they are new to writing them. Follow the guidelines and, when in doubt, ask.

  11. Writing in second person
  12. Second person uses the word “you” and is generally considered too colloquial for academic writing. Stick to third person by using “his” and “hers”, and make sure your pronouns match their antecedents. Avoid using “he” or “she”, especially when referencing a scholar. Use last names instead.

  13. Shifting verb tenses without reason
  14. Verb tense gets tricky, so pay extra attention to make sure you aren’t skipping from the past to the present in the same sentence.

  15. Missing hyphens in compound adjectives
  16. Most of the times, when two words are used together to describe a noun, they should be hyphenated as follows: his ice-blue eyes. There are some exceptions to this rule, however. If the eyes were icy blue, there would be no hyphen. That’s because ice and blue are working together to form a compound adjective, whereas icy is simply describing what kind of blue it is.

  17. Typos and missing words
  18. Triple check everything because it is easy to mistype something or leave a wird. Oh wait, that should have said “leave out a word” …

  19. Misspelling
  20. Sometimes they’re typos, sometimes spellchecker just didn’t catch it. Whatever the reason, misspellings have no place in academia.

Hopefully these will help you avoid some of the common academic pitfalls in your first papers as an undergraduate. Remember, you’re in school to learn. Red ink only matters if you don’t figure out how to fix it.