5 Mistakes to Avoid in Academic Writing
  • 4-minute read
  • 17th July 2020

5 Mistakes to Avoid in Academic Writing

Academic documents need to be clear, concise, and error free. And to ensure this, there are five things you should avoid in academic writing:

  1. Plagiarism – Every source you use in an essay should be clearly cited.
  2. Informality – Use formal, academic language in your writing.
  3. Wordiness – Keep your writing concise by avoiding padding words.
  4. Biased language – Look out for biased language and stereotypes.
  5. Failure to proofread – Even a few typos could lose you marks, so make sure to have your academic writing proofread.

For more on what to avoid in academic writing, read on below.

1. Plagiarism

In academic writing, you must cite your sources! Failure to do so can lead to allegations of plagiarism. And to avoid plagiarism, you need to:

  • Check your school’s style guide and make sure you use the correct referencing system throughout your work.
  • Cite every source you use in your work. Do this for both direct quotes and any passage where you paraphrase another writer’s ideas.
  • Place all quoted text in quote marks and cite the source clearly.
  • List all sources in a reference list or bibliography.

Proper referencing will also demonstrate your academic writing skills, which can win you valuable extra marks on an essay.

2. Informality in Academic Writing

Academic writing is more formal and objective than everyday English. This means using standard English spelling, punctuation, and grammar, but it also means avoiding informal English. This typically includes:

  • Contractions, which should be written out in full instead (e.g., “won’t” and “can’t” should be written as “will not” and “cannot”).
  • An overly personal or chatty tone (e.g., you shouldn’t overuse the first person in academic writing, and exclamation points are out).
  • Informal words in place of technical language (e.g., instead of “did a test”, say “carried out a test” or “performed a test”).
  • Slang or colloquial English (e.g., you would refer to “police,” not “cops”).

There are, of course, exceptions to these rules. If you are writing a report on a book, for example, you might need to quote passages of informal English. But try to maintain a formal tone in general.

3. Wordiness

We understand the pressure of needing to meet a word count, but you should never pad out an essay with extra words and phrases just to meet your target. Excessive wordiness makes your writing harder to follow. It also stands out, so readers will spot it quickly!

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To avoid wordiness in your writing, though, you can:

  • Use the active voice where possible. While the passive voice can help you achieve an objective tone, overusing it can lead to wordiness and make your writing harder to follow.
  • Don’t use multiple words when one will do. Look for words or phrases that you can remove without changing the meaning of what you’re saying. For instance, instead of “due to the fact that,” you can simply say “because.” Other examples include redundancies and nominalizations.
  • Check for unnecessary modifiers. These are usually intensifiers that don’t add new information to a sentence. For example, instead of “completely implausible,” you can just use “implausible.”

If you are under your word count, look for areas you could expand without padding. This could be an extra comparison or example to support your argument, or simply a more detailed explanation of your conclusions.

4. Biased Language in Academic Writing

It’s important to use bias-free language. This includes gendered terms, generalizations, and stereotypes. Key things to look out for include:

  • Unnecessarily gendered terms (e.g., instead of “mankind,” use “humanity”).
  • Gendered pronouns (e.g., instead of using “he” throughout your paper for persons whose gender is unknown, use the more balanced “he or she” or the gender-neutral term “they”).
  • Dehumanizing language, especially language that reduces people to a single quality, such as their skin color or a medical condition (e.g., say “people with autism” rather than “autistics”).

In general, take care around how you discuss age, gender, race, ability, religion, etc. Make sure to consider the people you’re writing about and, where possible, use the language they use to refer to themselves.

5. Failure to Proofread

Typos in your work will lose you marks, which could make the difference between a failing and a passing grade! But by having your writing professionally proofread, you can be sure it is clear, concise and error free.

To see how we could help you get the marks you deserve, then, why not submit a free sample of academic writing for proofreading?

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