It’s one thing to know what you should be doing with your essay, but what about the things that you definitely want to avoid?  Here are some of the most common essay writing mistakes.  Avoid them at all costs!

Essay Plagiarism

This mistake is the one you want to avoid above all others, and making this error can cost you your place at university.  Plagiarism is passing off someone else’s work as if it is your own.  The universities see it as stealing.  Unfortunately, with the rise of cut-and-paste technology, this is becoming more common and the sad thing is that most people who plagiarise didn’t mean to do it.  But this is not seen as a defence.  Be very careful to put everything in your own words.

Essay Writer – Bad page layout

Awful page layout can make an essay hard to read.  Pay attention to margins, fonts, line spacing and the length of your paragraphs.  Also, find out if your tutor has any particular pet hates.  For instance, if the tutor doesn’t like bullet points as part of the essay format then don’t use them.

Essay format – Poor referencing

This relates back to plagiarism.  Really poor referencing can get you accused of idea theft.  Make sure you understand how to build a bibliography, reference and footnote correctly.  See our quick guide to referencing and bibliographies. It has links through to some of the more common methods of referencing.  For even more styles and referencing tutorials see Cardiff University’s page.

Poor essay writing – Slang!

Avoid slang in your essay.  Of course, if you are writing an English Language or Sociology essay on urban slang then you will need to mention some slang terms, but these should be clearly set in quotes.

Abbreviations or contracted words need to be approached with care.  Some tutors or markers will even take exception to the use of  ‘etc.’ rather than the full Latin ‘et cetera’!  This can make your task very difficult.  When in doubt, ask your tutor in advance.

Essay Structure – Incomplete Sentences

Many students forget to put verbs into their sentences or seem to abandon a sentence half way.  Remember that a sentence is a unit of meaning.  It is a string of words that expresses a thought, a question or an instruction.  If you have never been taught how a sentence should be constructed, it can be embarrassing to admit that you don’t understand! Have a look at an online guide or a book.

Hurford, J. R., Grammar: A Student’s Guide, Cambridge University Press (1994).

Tackling these problems now will help you throughout your academic career right up to PhD research.  If you have any issues with your writing please post a comment below.  It might be a useful idea for a future Oxbridge Essays blog!