Common Errors

Avoding mistakes
It is important that you are familiar with the points below and that you bear them in mind while you are drafting an academic paper/dissertation. What’s more, when you have finished your paper, you may think your work is ready to be handed in.  However, you should put it away for a few days and take some distance from it.  Then go over it once more and check out the list below.

You can also ask a classmate to read it, so that you can have second opinion about your work.  This will also give you the opportunity to introduce improvements, if necessary, before handing the paper to your professor.

Have I answered the topic?
 It might be the case that the assignment you have written is too general and does not address the topic properly, or, even worse, that it does not deal with the topic at all.

Similarly, it could also well be that it deals with only one aspect of the topic and offers, therefore, an `incomplete approach´.  You must consider that in a paper you are showing all your knowledge about the subject.  It is not a question of repeating a lecturer´s notes but developing your own ideas about the topic and putting them down on paper.

In the anglosaxon higher education system,  you are expected to contribute your own ideas and to have  critical approach to any piece of writing rather than repeating the notes you have taken in class

Is my piece of work coherent?
 Coherence is the logical development of the ideas that are put forward in a piece of writing.  It is the author’s task, therefore, to establish the link between those ideas.   The better the ideas are related to each other, the more coherent your academic paper will be.  It will also be easier to understand what you, the writer, mean.

The writer of an academic paper has to establish the connection among the different textual elements in a text, otherwise it might be the case that the reader does not discover the link among those elements or he does not relate them the way you would like it to be.

Is there cohesion in my paper?
 Textual coherence is directly related to textual organization and the sequencing of ideas.  The use of discourse markers or connectors will help to put forward ideas in such a way that it seems that they have a closer connection between among each other.

Cohesion in a text will be achieved if you use discourse markers/ connectors properly and the ideas in the text are chronologically  presented  If the ideas in a text are coherent the rest of formal elements in the text will fall into place and help to give it more cohesion.  You should try and avoid repetition of ideas and the use of unnecessary words.   Go for rich and varied vocabulary.

Am I using the right register?
 The reader or our academic paper/ dissertation is not going to be a friend or a relative,  but a university lecturer and therefore a specialist in the subject or someone whose knowledge about the topic is much wider  and deeper than yours.   Your reader expects you to write in a formal way, not as if you were texting our friends.

Hence, the style you use must be formal and you must have an eye for possible register mistakes.   You should avoid vocabulary that is too familiar and as you will have imagined, slang is definitely out of place. Similarly, you should also avoid the opposite. That’s the use of too many words or expressions that are not in use any more and that may hide the meaning behind your words.

Clarity and concision are the rules of thumb in a good academic paper.

Do I use spelling and punctuation well?
 An academic paper which has no punctuation or uses it wrongly will cause a very poor impression. The same applies if there are spelling mistakesTherefore, it is advisable that, apart from using the speller check application in your computer, you make a printout of your work to spot punctuation and spelling mistakes that the speller check will not have identified. Those mistakes can easily be overlooked when working on the computer.   Besides there are words and mistakes that the speller check does not recognize and will consider to be wrong when in fact you know they are right.

Remember that spelling and punctuation conventions can vary from language to language.  You should find out about those conventions if you are writing in a language that is not your own.

Do I use the language well?
If you are writing in your mother tongue, there should be no or hardly any grammar, spelling, punctuation and word order mistakes.   On the contrary, if you are going to write your assignment in a language that you do not master, it is most likely that you will make mistakes and that you will make more mistakes than in your own mother tongue. That’s why you should make sure that you know the spelling and punctuation rules and written conventions in the language you are going to write your piece of work in.

Sometimes these mistakes will make it difficult for the reader, in this case your tutor, to understand what you mean, which not only causes a poor impression about the writer but also has a direct influence on the final mark.   It is convenient that you ask a classmate to read through your paper so that he can make suggestions about it and point out possible mistakes you have overlooked. 

When am I plagirizing?
 Plagiariazing consists in presenting as your own ideas that you have borrowed from an autor.  Plagiarizing is a very serious mistake that should be avoided. If you wish to include a writer’s ideas you should include quotations, which will clearly show that those ideas are not yours.

You can also paraphrase a writer’s words.  Paraphrasing does not mean to change some words from the original source but to express those ideas in your own words.  If you do, it is advisable that you compare your version and the original to see that the similarities are minimal. Yet, some academic institutions frown upon it and it is not a good idea at all that you constantly paraphrase ideas by other authors.