As a college student, you know how stressful and competitive it is to write a good essay. Unfortunately, things can still go wrong even when you have all the right tools and resources available. You can make plenty of mistakes that will lead to an unsatisfactory grade or, even worse: no grade at all! To avoid this, we put together a list of the top six tips for avoiding these common pitfalls so that your writing journey goes smoothly from start to finish.
Table of Contents
Not Following the Assignment Instructions
The first mistake you can make is following instructions when assigned a paper. Refrain from assuming that you know what your instructor wants. Instructors often expect students to follow their instructions down to the letter.
If given a choice between two topics or formats, always choose one of the topics. So it is rather than thinking outside of the box with creative flair. Instructors are looking for well-written essays that follow their guidelines; they won’t appreciate that extra effort!
Not Using a Basic Essay Outline
An essay outline is a tool that will help keep you on track and organized as you write your essays. It’s not just a random list of topics to cover. Instead, it’s a roadmap for the entire essay. It doesn’t have to be complicated or fancy—it can be as simple as bullet points outlining each idea in your paper.
When writing an argumentative essay, then an outline might include sections called “Introduction,” “Body,” and “Conclusion.” The point is to ensure you get all your ideas out before moving on to the next one. Thus, you remember something important later on in the process.
Thinking You Don’t Need to Do Research
Before writing an essay, you must know what you are writing about. You should have an idea of the topic, who your audience is, and why your opinion matters. Only then can you start writing with confidence.
It’s not enough to state, “I think X is true because Y” or “This happened because Z didn’t happen.” If someone asked why they should believe that, how would you respond? What makes your opinion worth taking seriously? Unless there’s evidence backing up your argument—and not just a few vague examples—it’s difficult for anyone else to take it seriously too.
Writing in Dreadfully Formal Language
Another common mistake new college students make is writing in dreadfully formal language. You should know teachers want you to use something other than big words as a student. Instead, they want you to keep it simple and communicate with clarity.
The best way to avoid using complex language is by avoiding them entirely and using more simple words instead. At the same time, don’t take too much liberty when using contractions and active voice instead of passive voice. Both these things will make your essay appear less mature and more unprofessional at first glance.
Not Knowing How to Use Quotes
Quotes can be a great way to make your essay more interesting and help you convey your argument. However, using them sparingly is also essential, as doing so will likely result in bland writing that says little.
Quoting someone else should be to support your argument or viewpoint—not just fill space. You should limit yourself to one or two quotes per paragraph at most, with three being the maximum number allowed by any professor (and they probably won’t like that).
Not Citing the Work of Others Correctly
As a new college student, you may have been told there is a right way and a wrong way to cite your sources. It is true. But how do you know what the correct method is? There are many citation styles (MLA and APA being two of the most commonly used).
Each style has rules for citing everything from articles, books, and websites to newspaper articles and interviews with experts.
Regarding referencing sources within an essay, the most important thing is consistency: in your citations throughout the piece, consistency in the formatted citations, and consistency across all of your papers, whether written for one class or multiple classes (and yes, even if those classes are at two separate universities).
By avoiding these common pitfalls, you will be in a much better position to succeed. And if you feel that something is holding you back, try talking to a friend about it or even an expert essay writer. Good luck!