Five Common Student Mistakes in Academic Writing
All written assignments contain different assessment criteria. Essays, for example, require students to develop an evidence-based argument. Alternatively, reports require students to provide recommendations on a particular research topic. Even reflective journals—which are often more personal—ask students to analyse their learning experience in a structured format. Despite these differences, students regularly make similar mistakes when completing any form of written assignment. This blog entry discusses five of the most common mistakes that students make in academic writing.
- Using Informal Language
Academic writing is formal and uses specific terminology for each discipline. Students should recognise these characteristics and avoid writing in a tone that is too conversational or similar to what might be said in everyday life. Words and phrases to avoid include “nowadays”, “etc.”, “and so on”, “stuff” and “things”.
- Personal Pronouns
With the exception of assignments that ask for personal reflection, academic writing must be objective, evidence-based and highly analytical. In this way, ideas and research should inform the arguments and conclusions reached rather than drawing upon personal opinion. Words such as “I” and “we” generally do not belong in assignments.
- Long Sentences
Sentences that are longer than 4 lines become quite difficult to understand. As a general rule, it is best to keep sentences short and to the point. Aim for sentences that are no longer than three lines or 30-40 words.
- Unstructured Paragraphs
Almost all academic writing must be structured into full-length paragraphs. This gives the author enough space to develop an argument or analyse a particular issue. Paragraphs should focus on only one main point. They should contain a topic sentence, further explanation or analysis, and provide supporting evidence based on individual research. In each paragraph, it is also common to establish a link to the main purpose of the assignment. A good paragraph length is usually between 150-250 words.
- Incorrect Referencing
Correct referencing is an essential element of all research-based assignments. Referencing quality academic sources makes written work more authoritative, and it also helps avoid plagiarism by ensuring that other people’s ideas are acknowledged. When referencing, it is important to follow the style guidelines carefully and remain consistent throughout your assignment. Kent uses the Harvard style of referencing and there are comprehensive student guides available on the Academic Learning Support page on Moodle.
Academic Learning Support Coordinator at Kent Institute Australia