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3 Mistakes You Can Easily Avoid in Academic Writing

October 9, 2014

Over the course of your studies, there’s no way to avoid writing academic and research papers, but avoiding some of the most common writing pitfalls is easier than you might think. Developing your writing skills as a student is essential, as these skills will allow you to clearly convey your ideas and opinions and will go a long way in helping you throughout your professional career. Here are 3 mistakes you should be sure to avoid, so that you can compose essays that are clear, concise and persuasive.

papers in the trash

1. Ambiguity

Ambiguous writing muddles your argument, making it difficult for your reader to understand what you're trying to say. Ambiguity in writing comes in many forms, but two areas are particularly susceptible to vagueness. First, ambiguous pronouns can make an otherwise clear sentence downright confusing. Using pronouns to represent previously introduced subjects varies your writing and allows you to avoid sounding repetitive. However, pronouns such as it, they, this, and these risk being ambiguous. To avoid being vague, define these pronouns. For example, instead of saying, "This was successful," write, "This study was successful."

Similarly, a modifier, which is a short phrase that describes another word or phrase in a sentence, can be ambiguous when it is improperly placed in the sentence. To avoid ambiguous modifiers, keep them immediately before or after the words they describe.

2. Lack of Credible Sources

Sources can bolster your argument and connect your research to the writers and researchers who came before you. However, while the Internet has simplified the research process, it has also exposed students to many unverifiable sources.

Knowing how to conduct research can help you avoid using questionable sources. For starters, anonymous sources should not be trusted. The credibility of authors can be verified by researching their background to determine whether they are a subject matter expert or simply an opinionated blogger. Questionable sources can further be avoided by searching on reputable websites, especially those that end in .edu, .org or .gov.

We recommend beginning your research through the Online Library, accessible in the Campus Common via the My Academics menu. The Online Library staff also regularly hosts webinars that can help you to enhance your research skills, and staff members are available to assist you at or 1-866-874-0730. To see our webinar schedule, check our events calendar!

3. Improper Style

Style guides might seem like burdensome rules that frustrate and confuse students, but they also help create cohesive, easy-to-understand papers that are consistent from start to finish. Many students overlook style guide formatting or fail to apply rules consistently, which can result in a paper that is challenging to read. Moreover, failing to follow proper style risks unintentional plagiarism.

Adhering to your program- or course-specific style guide, whether that is APA, MLA or the Chicago Manual of Style, among others, is essential. In addition to ensuring that your academic paper adheres to basic formatting guidelines, you should also ensure you cite sources properly throughout. Whether you use parenthetical citations within the text or footnotes at the bottom of the page, your in-text citations should line up with a complete and correctly formatted works-cited page at the end of your paper.

Don’t forget that South University offers a Writing Center where someone will review your papers and give you feedback prior to final submission. Just select the Tutoring Service link in your classroom on any assignment page!

Tags: writing

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