While writing, you will likely make mistakes. But, do not panic because it is typical for many. However, some issues are more common, critical and oft-repeated than others.
It is particularly true for novice writers in undergraduate studies although I have also seen graduate students making these mistakes. However, this post is intended for college students and beginners in writing.
Here are the five most common mistakes you need to avoid while writing.
- Long Sentences
It is an assumption that good writing is composed of long sentences. Instead, write short sentences because they are easier to follow. But, many love to write long sentences. It is understandable for sometimes it is unavoidable, but most often it can be avoided.
Here is a simple definition of the sentence. It comprises a subject and a predicate to make a complete sense. I am reading, or I am reading a book are both complete sentences.
Expanding on the first sentence, here is an example of a lengthy sentence.
I am reading a book which my father gifted me on my birthday and it is very interesting because the book talks about some issues that I really want to know more about.
It is a 33-word long sentence. But hold on, I have seen horrifying ones. One of my students once wrote an 88-word long sentence.
You need to avoid such sentences. Why take the risk and trouble when there is a better way to write the same in two short and compelling sentences.
I am reading a book that my father gave me on my birthday. I like it because it is very interesting and talks about issues that I really want to know more about.
Shakespeare said, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” Good writing is brief and to the point. It does not use ten words in a sentence where eight or less work just fine, or even better. It avoids using countless adjectives in a sentence when only one perfectly does the job.
It is OK to use jargon for things that don’t have another definition or can not be described otherwise but overusing it also makes you sound pretentious.
Remember, superfluousness is a sign of poor writing.
Examine the short paragraph above for unnecessary words which do not add any meaning to the sentence. Also, these are words which do not change the meaning either if you omit them.
Read the sentence again without the crossed words. The paragraph will still hold the same meaning.
- Poor Punctuation
In Keys for Writers, Raimes and Miller-Cochran write, “Punctuation serves to regulate the flow of information through a sentence, showing readers how to read your ideas.” Commas, apostrophes, semicolons and colons, etc. are some examples of punctuation.
But, many don’t understand or take the accurate use of punctuation for granted.
A deeper problem occurs when the punctuation is absent or its use is incorrect use; it is impossible to convey the intended message to the reader. Read the following without punctuation signals a reader usually expects.
Although Robert is an intelligent student he could not get into Harvard for his undergraduate studies. The admission committee said we are sorry to inform you about this news because you did not fill out the application accurately.
The paragraph above does not impede the meaning, but conventional punctuation and mechanics clarify the sense further.
Although Robert is an intelligent student, he could not get into Harvard for his undergraduate studies. The admission committee said, “We are sorry to inform you about this news because you did not fill out the application form accurately.”
This problem is somewhat similar to verbosity, but slightly distinct because some writers tend to not only use extra words or repeat words but also duplicate ideas. Good writers do not reproduce either because redundant writing becomes boring. The reader loses interest in it which is the worst for a writer.
Look at this example if you don’t want it to happen to your writing.
I am reading a book. I got it as a gift from my father on my birthday. I like it because it is very interesting. The book talks about issues that I really want to know more about.
“I” is an example of repetitiveness here. A better way to write it is the way stated previously.
I am reading a book. My father gifted it to me on my birthday. I like it because it is very interesting. The book talks about issues that I really want to know more about.
“I” is used two times and not consecutively. Only a minuscule change of “my” made a big difference.
- Lack of Specificity
Good writing does not beat about the bush, but it is specific and to the point. It deals with a particular subject and doesn’t get into generalizations. The moment it generalizes, writing loses its focus, rhythm and goal.
Most often when I review personal statements of students for college or university admissions, I find generalizations such as “After returning to my country, I will solve many of its problems.” This statement is an example of extremely over-generalized writing.
It has two problems. One, you can’t solve “many problems” because they are huge. Two, it is not clear to the reader what those issues are. And this is what I mean by writing losing its focus and goal precisely.
Author: Aslam is a writing Lecturer and Ph.D. student of Global Affairs at Rutgers University. He can be reached at email@example.com or @aslam_Kakar