ProofreadingPal Blog

Five Common Student Writing Problems

September 30, 2021 by ProofreadingPal in Grammar

Over the years, the Proofreading Pulse has provided in-depth coverage of many topics useful to writers of all types. In today’s post, I will focus on the needs of one of our large client groups: students. Specifically, I will  review some of the most common problems we proofreaders see in student papers. Some of these topics have been covered in our blog previously in greater detail. Today’s post is a watch list of things to keep an eye out for to put your best foot forward on your course papers.

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1. Errors with Quotations

One main problem we see with quotations is missing or incorrect punctuation and poorly integrated quotations. Make sure to “punctuate quotations like I am showing you in this sentence” (use beginning and ending quotation marks) and make sure the quotation reads smoothly within the sentence, as the quotation does in this sentence. Avoid overly long quotations; instructors will see right through your use of long quotes to beef up your page/word count. Don’t quote, but paraphrase (put in your own words) ideas that you can express just as well or better yourself. For more information on quotations, see the posts “Tips for Effective Use of Quotes” and “The Misunderstood Scare Quotes.”

2. Missing Citations

Quoted words/phrases/sentences or paraphrased ideas from outside authors/sources should always be cited parenthetically or with a foot- or endnotes. It is better to cite too much than to cite too little. Cite too much and your instructor will tell you to cite less and possibly provide you with guidance on how to do so. Cite too little and your instructor may bring you up on charges of academic dishonesty. Citation styles vary, so make sure to follow the style guide your instructor requires. For a good summary of citations in the most common styles, see the post “Cheat Sheet for In-Text Citations by Style.” The Proofreading Pulse also has posts about Vancouver, CSE, AMA, IEEE, and AP style and comparison charts for APA, MLA, and Chicago and for CSE, IEEE, and AMA.

3. Wrong Words

Often in academic assignments, writers find themselves writing on a topic they are not 100% familiar with. The vocabulary associated with the discipline may be new. Discussion even of familiar topics may commonly use less common words, academic words like paradigm, hegemony, inquiry, pedagogy. Or, in an attempt to “sound smart,” students may try to use “big words” to sound smarter. In all of these cases, I have one piece of advice: Avoid using a word you are not completely certain you are using correctly. There are several Proofreading Pulse posts about challenges with words, including utilized, between vs. among, words related to comparisons, affect vs. effect, comprise vs. compose, and more.   

4. Incorrect Spelling

We rely on spell check to save us, but it doesn’t always do so. Spelling names incorrectly, using two words for what should be one word (every day instead of everyday): these sorts of things may not be caught by spell check. The solution? Read over your work carefully and have another reader be a second set of eyes. Want more information about spelling? The Proofreading Pulse has a great post about the top four misspelled words and one about how reliable spellcheck is.

5. Unnecessary or Missing Capital Letters

Mistakes with capitalization are very common, but the general rules are pretty simple: capitalize proper nouns, beginnings of sentences, and “main” words in titles. The letters in abbreviations are capitalized, but the words they stand for are not capitalized unless they are proper nouns. This may seem a little obvious, but look up words in the dictionary if you aren’t sure if they are proper nouns.  For more information, see the Proofreading Pulse’s post about common capitalization errors and the post about capitalization differences in APA, MLA, and Chicago.

Remember, the more you improve your own writing before you submit it for proofreading with us, the better your final product will be. If we get a paper riddled with simple errors, we must spend all of our time correcting those errors. If we get a paper already well worked over by the author, we can help the author refine and improve it. So before you submit your paper for proofreading, check to see if you’ve looked out for these common errors.

Sarah P.

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