Everyone in academia has encountered the perils and pitfalls of academic writing. The academic writing process is complicated, and even the best students find it far too easy to make mistakes. The good news is that it is easy to avoid some of the most common mistakes, if you know what to look for.

Let’s take a look at ten of the most common mistakes that students make when writing their papers.

  1. Plagiarism. Let’s start with the big one. Plagiarism occurs when a student copies the ideas or phrasing of another writer without citing the source. Plagiarism is a huge mistake and is an example of academic dishonesty. A plagiarized paper can result in loss of credit for the assignment, or even the entire course. Citing sources is a must, as is writing your paper in your own words to ensure originality.

  2. Spelling. OK, now that we’ve gotten the big one out of the way, let’s go small: Spelling might seem like a small thing, but spelling errors can heavily impact your paper. While grammar and spelling checkers built into most word processors can be a good place to start, don’t trust them completely. Many can’t tell when you’ve used the wrong word when it is spelled correctly, such as “their,” “there,” and “they’re.”

  3. Comma-Splice Sentences. When you join two ideas, you need to use a conjunction such as “and” or “but,” or link sentences with a semicolon. Joining them with only a comma is called a comma-splice, and it is wrong. If you can read what comes before and after the comma as two complete sentences, you need something more than a comma to join them.

  4. Paragraphing. Many students grew up writing on a computer and don’t think about separating text into paragraphs. However, delivering an entire paper with no paragraph breaks is exhausting for the reader, and separating paragraphs with skipped lines wastes space. Don’t skip line, but indent the first line of every paragraph by five spaces or one-half inch.

  5. Apostrophes in Possessives. Too many students have not mastered making a word possessive. When trying to show ownership, add an apostrophe and the letter “s” to singular words, and an “s” followed by an apostrophe for plural words. There are some exceptions, but the general rule is a place to start. Don’t forget the apostrophe! One big exception: the word “it.” The possessive of “it” is “its,” not “it’s,” which is a contraction of “it is.”

  6. Formatting Online Sources in a Bibliography. Even though the Web has been around for decades, many students still believe that a URL is sufficient to document an online source. It’s not. APA, MLA, Chicago, and other styles all have rules for how to document online sources by citing the author, title, year of publication, and other essential information. A URL by itself won’t tell you who wrote a piece or whether it came from a credible source.

  7. Inflated Language. Academic writing is a formal writing style, but that doesn’t mean using the longest possible words and lots of passive voice constructions to try to sound complicated and scholarly. When you use inflated language, it makes your writing seem needlessly wordy and takes away from the clarity and power of your message.

  8. Singular and Plural Pronouns. Because we try to avoid using gendered language, many students use plural pronouns with singular nouns: “Every student has their own notebook.” While “they” as a singular pronoun is starting to be accepted, it’s better to pluralize the whole sentence to avoid an awkward construction and gendered language: “Students have their own notebooks.”

  9. Not Outlining Your Paper. Outlining can seem like extra busywork, but it’s an important way to organize your paper and avoid time-wasting repetition during the writing process. Outlining gives you a chance to lay out what you need to say before you start writing so you can write more quickly and with greater clarity of purpose.

  10. Not Addressing All of the Requirements. The single biggest mistake students make in their academic writing is not reading all of the requirements of an assignment. Nothing will get you marked down faster than missing a key element of an assignment. In order to make sure you stand the best chance of earning full credit, be sure to address every point in the assignment and use any provided rubric as a guide to ensure you maximize your chances for a high grade.

PS: Our team is grateful to smartwritingservice.com for providing our site and readers with useful academic writing guidelines for education.