Essay writing is often a daunting task, especially if you don’t feel confident in a particular format or about a specific topic. As a certified college writing tutor, I had the chance to work with tons of students at varying writing levels. It didn’t take long for me to notice some prevalent essay writing mistakes students continued to make in their papers, despite the format and topic.
In this article, I will show you some of the most common essay writing mistakes I’ve seen while tutoring and how to avoid them. I’ve seen incredible success with improved grades from students who managed to correct these mistakes.
Here are the five most common essay writing mistakes and how to avoid them.
1 | Missing or unclear thesis statement.
You’d be surprised how many students I’ve tutored who thought they had a clear thesis statement when they didn’t have one at all. Every academic essay you write should have a clear thesis statement toward the end of your first paragraph. However, many students have a hard time determining what their statement should look like, and this often happens when they don’t fully understand the prompt or the topic they’ve chosen to write.
Your thesis statement doesn’t have to feel hard! Writing your thesis statement should be one of the easiest parts of writing your essay. How can you avoid making this essay writing mistake?
First, understand that your thesis statement is often your professor’s writing prompt rewritten and customized to fit your voice and perspective on the topic. Let’s take a look at an example essay writing prompt below, and then see what I would consider a solid thesis in response to that.
Example essay writing prompt:
Video games have been the focus of heated debate for the last 50 years, with many voicing concerns about violence, innuendos, and video game addiction all playing a part. In recent years, many have dedicated their lives to playing video games as a sport, which has amassed a rather large community of digital “athletes.” However, many disagree that gaming should fall into the “sport” category because it requires nearly no physical training or activity. For this essay, you should choose your stance and answer the following question: Should video games be considered a sport?
Example thesis statement response:
Video games should not be considered a sport because, while they display some elements of a sport such as competing against others, they do not require any physical training, excursion, or literal skill.
As you can see from my thesis example, I’ve built a thesis statement from the question asked, and I have customized it to fit my stance on the topic. My next step would be to find scholarly sources that prove my stance as correct. If you follow this same method to create your thesis statement, you should never have any trouble organizing a clear and powerful essay.
2 | They write the introduction paragraph first instead of last.
This may seem like a surprising essay writing mistake, but I’ve seen it happen to even advanced writers. It’s human nature to want to start at the beginning; however, I always recommend that students begin writing their essays from the second paragraph onward. After they have written their last paragraph before the conclusion, they should then write the introductory paragraph, followed by the conclusion.
Why? All writers have a tendency to use the intro paragraph to sort of work out the rough kinks of what their essay is about, which often leads to a disorganized, repetitive intro paragraph that doesn’t match the rest of the paper. Remember that your first paragraph is your professor’s first impression of your essay, so it needs to be extremely concise and a good representation of the rest of your paper.
How do you avoid this essay writing mistake? Start by listing your thesis statement at the top of your paper and let that stand as your intro for now. From there, jump right into your first body paragraph that makes your first point to support your thesis. Keep going down the list of reasons why your thesis statement holds water until you get to the end. At that point, you’ll have a much clearer idea of what your essay looks like as a whole and can then write a much more concise introductory paragraph to match it.
3 | You’re missing topic sentences on your body paragraphs.
I frequently had students come in feeling like their essays didn’t “flow” correctly, but they couldn’t pinpoint why. If your writing feels like it doesn’t flow when you read it or that it jumps from paragraph to paragraph in an abrupt way, it’s likely because you don’t have topic sentences at the beginning of each body paragraph.
What’s a topic sentence? You can think of a topic sentence as a mini-thesis statement for each body paragraph. The same way your thesis statement lets the reader know what your entire paper is about, your topic sentence should do the same for each paragraph.
For example, suppose I were to write a full essay based on the example prompt and thesis statement we used above. In that case, I’d likely start with a first body paragraph that addressed the fact that almost all video games involve zero physical training.
Example topic sentence:
The dictionary definition of the word sport includes physical training; however, nearly all video games require little to no physical activity.
This example topic sentence works exceptionally well for the first body paragraph because it clearly defines the point I’m about to support. Think of your topic sentence as your points one, two, three, and so forth. The rest of the paragraph is merely expanding on the topic sentence, so your reader can fully grasp why each point is valid and worthy of consideration for the argument as a whole.
4 | Basic grammar and spelling mistakes.
You don’t have to be a spectacular writer to get a good grade on a writing assignment, but you should at least avoid basic grammar and spelling mistakes in your essay at all costs. We’re living in a world where there are many grammar and spell-check tools, most of which are free, so you have no excuse when it comes to avoiding grammatical and spelling errors.
Microsoft Word and Google Docs include a basic grammar and spelling checker that you should become familiar with using. Additionally, there are many tools online that allow at least basic use for free. If you’re serious about improving your essay writing grade, you should consider paying a monthly fee for something like Grammarly, which even gives suggestions on craft, style, and word choice.
There’s no excuse anymore to have bad grammar or spelling mistakes in your academic essay, so take your time and use the technology available to avoid this mistake.
5 | Incorrect essay formatting.
Surprisingly, your essay’s formatting is the least concerning when compared to addressing all these other common writing mistakes. You’d be surprised what formatting issues a professor might overlook if you’ve managed to avoid the first four of these mistakes. However, formatting your essay correctly and according to your course’s guidelines will inevitably improve your grade.
If all else fails, you should get your title information and page number formatting correct, as this is the easiest part of formatting and what I see done wrong most often. Don’t get on your professor’s bad side by overlooking the simplest aspects of formatting. It’s more challenging rules like in-text citations that your professor is more likely to ease up on, not the simple stuff like your page numbers!
If you need help formatting your essay, check out our resources below:
Mel Beasley has a bachelor’s in creative writing and journalism from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. He brings 9+ years of digital marketing and writing experience to the table by writing for publications such as Lumina News and Encore Magazine. He spent 2 years as a college-level writing tutor, and is a certified writing tutor through the CRLA, which is a prestigious cert recognized by the Association for the Coaching & Tutoring Profession. He is a professional SEO blogger with experience writing for brands such as Boardworks Education and The Greater Wilmington Business Journal. One of his latest website and marketing projects has been building the website for the now New York Times Bestselling author, Nina de Gramont.