Recently, in the midst of a frantic search to put off doing anything remotely productive as long as physically possible, I stumbled across the following article: 12 unforgivable writing mistakes. Given that keeping an eye out for grammar errors is part of my job, this made me chuckle (and in some cases, nod vigorously; really, the semicolon is not that confusing once you learn how to use it!). It got me thinking: are there some writing mistakes that college students are particularly susceptible to?
Spoiler alert: Yes, there are.
So, without further ado, I present to you five unforgivable writing mistakes college students frequently make (in no particular order):
1. Not citing your sources (aka plagiarizing)
Unforgivable: “Martin argues that organized religion hampers the individual’s ability to achieve spiritual transcendence.”
Correct: “Martin argues that organized religion hampers the individual’s ability to achieve spiritual transcendence (Martin 41).”
Or, you know, something to that effect. There are tons of different ways to plagiarize (as you can see above, you still need to acknowledge the source even if you’re not quoting it directly!). For more information about how to cover your tracks, check out the Purdue OWL guide to Avoiding Plagiarism. Basically, at the risk of taking an incredibly complex topic and over-simplifying it: when in doubt, cite.
2. Presenting another scholar’s ideas as your own (aka plagiarizing)
In the same vein as #1: don’t assume you can adopt another scholar’s ideas without acknowledgement just because that scholar isn’t featured on the course book list. First of all, that’s plagiarism. Second of all, your Professor is an expert on this subject.
3. Not reading the prompt carefully before you start writing
More often than not, college papers require that students reflect on and respond to a particular prompt. If you don’t take the time to carefully read and consider each aspect of the prompt before you begin, you run the risk of writing a paper that, while brilliant, doesn’t come close to meeting your Professor’s expectations. If you aren’t sure you completely understand the prompt, ask for clarification.
4. Starting your paper at 10 pm the night before it’s due
Now, don’t even start with the “oh, but I always do this and it’s fine” excuses. It’s not fine. Editing is a tremendously important part of the writing process; by thoroughly editing your work, you’ll catch not only spelling and grammar errors, but also logical inconsistencies and flawed trains of thought. If you start all your papers the night before, you will miss out on the opportunity to edit your work with the attention it deserves and your paper will be worse off for it.
5. Sticking too closely to what you think your Professor wants to hear
Taking into account your Professor’s preferences as stated in class and on the prompt? Great! Basing your paper around an argument he or she has articulated that you find particularly fascinating? So long as you include your own ideas, go for it! Halfheartedly arguing something you don’t believe in or find interesting just because you assume your Professor will agree? A recipe for disaster. First of all, if you don’t believe in what you’re writing, how do you expect someone else to? Second, you should never assume that Professors will only respond positively to arguments that match their personal worldviews. In most cases, Professors will reward students who are willing take a risk and defend their own opinions, provided they do so convincingly and eloquently.