Common Mistakes in Academic Writing & How to Avoid Them

05.11.22 Language rules overview Time to read: 3min

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Academic writing, while demanding, can be mastered with a good grasp of language rules and careful attention to common pitfalls. Mistakes ranging from structuring, style, to grammatical errors can distract from your argument and undermine the credibility of your work. Most of these common mistakes are avoidable, so it’s important to know which mistakes you’re likely to make. Explore our guide to transform these challenges into opportunities for improvement in your academic writing.

Common Mistakes – In a Nutshell

  • There are many common mistakes in writing.
  • Researchers can use British or American English in their work, although it must be consistent throughout.
  • Students should ensure their work is free from any mistakes before submitting their 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.

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Common mistakes: British vs. American English

British English 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
Organise Organize
Colour Color
Flavour Flavor
Labour Labor
Apologise Apologize
Offence Offense
Pretence Pretense
Analogue Analog
Catalogue Catalog
Recognise Recognize

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)

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
• Many..

Common mistakes: Nouns & plurals

Some common mistakes in noun plurals include:

Incorrect Correct
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:

Incorrect Correct
50.000,00 50,000.00
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 rubles

Common mistakes: Adjectives

Students also make some common mistakes when using adjectives correctly. For instance:

Incorrect Correct
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:

Incorrect Correct
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 secretary

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


The effect of the pandemic was widespread, it affected many people in the world.

  • Personnel – noun
  • Personal – adjective


The school’s personnel like to keep their personal items in their cars.

  • Principal – adjective
  • Principle – noun


The principal theme of the study draws on principles defined in the main source.

  • Were – verb
  • Where – adjective


They were found in the park where they like to play.

  • Bear – verb
  • Bare – adjective


The axle bears the load on a bare surface.

Common mistakes: Conjunctions and prepositions

Conjunctions and prepositions are used frequently in academic writing. Some common mistakes include the following:

Incorrect Correct
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...
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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.