Academic writing is used in research and usually follows certain rules in formatting. Students often make common mistakes that can negatively impact the quality of the work. Most of these common mistakes are avoidable, so it’s important to know which mistakes you’re likely to make in your work.
Definition: Common mistakes
Common mistakes are errors in academic writing that most students fail to notice in their research. There are different common mistakes ranging from inappropriate punctuation to improper sentence structure and more. Proofreading and editing your work is essential to correct language mistakes and other errors, as they can give you a lower score even if your research is well-structured.1
Common mistakes: British vs. American English
British and American English are the main languages used in academic writing by students and researchers. However, some words are spelled differently, and students should use the instructed language in their work to avoid common mistakes in language use.
|British English||American English|
Common mistakes: Citation terms
Terms used in a citation, including et al. are commonly miswritten as Et al or Et all. For example:
✘ The spread of the bubonic plague was largely influenced by trade and immigration (Gretel et all., 1976)
✘ The spread of the bubonic plague was largely influenced by trade and immigration (Gretel et. al., 1976)
✓ The spread of the bubonic plague was largely influenced by trade and immigration (Gretel et al., 1976)3
Common mistakes: Quantifiers
|Incorrect||A couple of things were missing from…|
|Correct||• A few things were missing from…
• A handful of things…
• Two/three things…
|Incorrect||• A lot of places…
• A lot of time…
• Many of the students…
• A big number of
|Correct||• Many places…
• Much time
• Many students
Common mistakes: Nouns & plurals
Some common mistakes in noun plurals include:
|Three hypothesis||Three hypotheses|
|Two analysis||Two analyses|
|The parent’s meeting||The parents’ meeting|
|Five taxi’s left the airport||Five taxis left the airport|
|The main criteria used||The main criterion used|
Common mistakes: Punctuating numbers and dates
Using commas correctly ensures proper punctuation of numbers, as follows:
|He moved in the 1940’s||He moved in the 1940s|
|The boy was born on 10th May||The boy was born on the 10th of May|
|He won the lottery on 2nd October||He won the lottery on the 2nd of October|
|There is a budget deficit of 10.000,000 rubles||There is a budget deficit of 10,000,000 rubles5|
Common mistakes: Adjectives
Students also make some common mistakes when using adjectives correctly. For instance:
|Several politics factors have contributed to…||Several political factors…|
|Refer only to fact based assumptions in your thesis…||Refer only to fact-based assumptions in your thesis…|
|The production methods are both similar…||The production methods are similar...|
|There are many so called opinion leaders...||There are many so-called...|
|Socialists are specially concerned about...||Socialists are especially concerned...|
Common mistakes: Verbs/phrasal verbs
Some common mistakes include:
|They divided the cake in two halves||They divided the cake into two halves|
|You can make a photo on the bridge||You can take a photo on the bridge|
|The teacher choose two students||The teacher chose two students|
|He lead the team to victory||He led the team to victory|
|He send the secretary||He sent the secretary6|
Common mistakes: Words that are mixed up
It is common for students to mix up certain words, especially those that have similar pronunciations, such as:
- Effect – noun
- Affect – verb
- Personnel – noun
- Personal – adjective
- Principal – adjective
- Principle – noun
- Were – verb
- Where – adjective
- Bear – verb
- Bare – adjective
Common mistakes: Conjunctions and prepositions
Conjunctions and prepositions are used frequently in academic writing. Some common mistakes include the following:
|Furthermore, we can…||Furthermore, we can...|
|Moreover, there are…||Moreover, there are...|
|First of all...||First...|
|Cities like Kansas…||Cities such as…|
|Therefore I can…||Therefore, I can...|
The most common mistakes in writing are grammatical errors from incorrect punctuation, spelling, and word groups. They also include misuse of phrases and confusing similar words.
Proofreading and revising is the best way to find errors. Also, confirm the correct forms of words and spellings before using them.
There are different spellings for certain words in these forms of writing. For instance, the use of “s” and “z” may vary, such as analyse and analyze.
Use a comma in the right place to show a number correctly. For instance 10,000 not 10.000.
1 solent online learning. “Successful Academic Writing.” Accessed on October, 26, 2022. https://learn.solent.ac.uk/mod/book/view.php?id=116226&chapterid=15165.
2 tysto. “Comprehensive* list of American and British spelling differences.” Accessed on October, 26, 2022. http://www.tysto.com/uk-us-spelling-list.html.
3 merriam webster. “et al..” Accessed on October, 26, 2022. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/et%20al..
4 thoughtco. “A Lot, Lots Of, A Lot Of.” Accessed on October, 26, 2022. https://www.thoughtco.com/a-lot-lots-of-a-lot-of-1210746.
5 cochrane community. “Numbers.” Accessed on October, 26, 2022. https://community.cochrane.org/style-manual/numbers-statistics-and-units/numbers.
6 about words. “Common mistakes with phrasal verbs.” October, 26, 2016. https://dictionaryblog.cambridge.org/2016/10/26/common-mistakes-with-phrasal-verbs/.