Word Nerd: Top 5 writing errors made by undergraduate students

29 Jul

In 2008, Andrea Lunsford and Karen Lunsford conducted a national study on undergraduate writing in the US. The study was called “Mistakes Are A Fact of Life.” It revealed the most common errors made by college students in essays, papers, and other submissions.

Even today these errors are common and continue to attract negative attention from the reviewers or assessors.

So, in this Word Nerd, we bring you the top five writing mistakes made by undergraduate students. Make sure you check your drafts for these before submitting.

1. Using the wrong word: We have seen a number of memes on ‘their’ versus ‘there.’ But this error can occur when using more complex words – ‘illusion’ vs ‘allusion,’ or ‘compose’ instead of ‘comprise’ or even ‘assent’ versus ‘ascent.’

If you have even a smidgeon of doubt, double check your thesaurus and dictionary.

Word Nerd

2. Capitalizing at a whim: College students are far from the only ones prone to making this mistake. Even when it comes to Facebook Ads, newsletters, LinkedIn posts – arbitrary capitalization is a bane of the word nerd’s existence.

Please capitalize only proper nouns and proper adjectives, the first word in a sentence, and important words in titles. If you have access to a style guide, you can refer to it and make sure that you are capitalizing correctly. Otherwise, simply refer to a dictionary.

3. Missing the apostrophe: This is also a common one. The apostrophe makes a noun possessive. For example, ‘Angela’s file’ or ‘the boys’ soccer team.’ Apostrophes are not added after the possessive pronouns – ours, hers, and yours.

Word Nerd

4. Splicing the comma: A comma splice occurs when you use a comma to separate two clauses that could stand alone as sentences. For example: ‘Silas read the novel, his friends saw the movie.’

Depending on the meaning you want to convey, the comma splice can be corrected by splitting the clauses into independent sentences (‘Silas read the novel. His friends saw the movie’) by using a semi colon (‘Silas read the novel; his friends saw the movie’) or by using a connector (‘Silas read the novel but his friends saw the movie.’). Or just restructure the sentence.

5. Misspelling: Wrongly spelt words belong in autocorrect memes (which in turn belong in 2010). However, you’d be surprised at how often words are wrongly spelt and damage your score. Just ask the admissions officers at Johns Hopkins! Over-reliance on the spell checker will not do you any good either. Make sure to change font and read or print and read. Then re-read.

Are there any errors that you would like to add to this list? Let us know!

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