Common essay mistakes to avoid

Student working on a window seat in the Library

You’ve probably read tonnes of blogs offering their top tips for writing a winning essay. So, we thought we’d put the dos to one side for now and focus on the don’ts.

We spoke to the Student and Library Services team to get the lowdown on the most common essay mistakes and, most importantly, how to avoid them.

Reading glasses on pieces of paper

Forgetting to proofread

It’s easy for a pesky typo to slip through the net while you’re writing, especially if you’re rushing to meet a deadline or working while tired.

That’s why leaving yourself plenty of time for proofreading is such an important step in your academic writing, and it can actually make a difference to your result. 

Give your work a good, thorough check (paying close attention to spelling and grammar), take a break, and then look again with fresh eyes to check you haven’t missed anything.

If proofreading is something you struggle with, you’re not alone. Don’t forget you can use tools in Microsoft Word, such as the spellcheck and read aloud functions, which could help you spot some mistakes. More tips to guide you through your proofreading can be found here

Person reading from a phone and typing on their laptop with the other hand

Referencing incorrectly

Referencing is an alien concept to most of us when we start university, so it’s normal to feel confused. What do all the numbers mean? Why are there commas? When do I use italics

Because of the uncertainty, reference lists and bibliographies can be breeding grounds for mistakes. Some of the most common tend to be leaving out a citation, struggling to grasp the Harvard style and not using alphabetical order.

We can’t just ignore it and hope it goes away, referencing is here to stay. But there are plenty of tips and resources which can help you get to grips with the process and check you’re doing it right.

And you can sign up for the Library’s next referencing tutorial too. 

Neon text on a black sign reading 'blah blah blah'

Using overly casual language

We all use contractions, abbreviations and slang in our everyday speech, but they have no place in academic writing.

They can slip into our work when we start to write in the same way we talk. Read through your essay and check if you’ve used anything that makes your assignment feel informal, biased or less credible.

Look out for things like:

  • Contractions (can’t, it’s, could’ve)
  • Clichés (spill the beans, take it or leave it, until the cows come home)
  • Slang (rizz, canny, lit, extra)
  • Inappropriate acronyms (IYKYK, GOAT, IRL, TBH)
  • Emotional language (devastating, regrettably, brilliant)

Two people discussing work displayed on a laptop

Ignoring feedback

If you get an opportunity to receive feedback on an idea or a portion of your essay before your final submission, grab it with both hands.

Constructive feedback from a lecturer will help make sure you’re moving in the right direction and following the assessment criteria. Even if you’re only able to share a paragraph or two, the discussion might give you a confidence boost or inspire another idea.

If you’ve missed an opportunity to receive feedback on a current essay, don’t panic. Revisit feedback from previous submissions through Blackboard. It’ll help you reflect on where you could have done better in the past and put the points into practice.

Neon speech bubble saying 'hello'

Not asking for help

Student life is hard, and we can find ourselves under a lot of pressure. If you’re struggling, speak up.

Asking for help can feel like a big deal, but it’s important to remember that lecturers and academic support staff are here to support you through your studies and ensure you are proud of the results you receive after your hard work is done. 

You can go directly to a tutor to discuss additional support, visit the Student Life building to talk about your studies with an adviser or find out more about what’s on offer via the website

Student checking Blackboard on their iPad

Skipping Blackboard

Blackboard is a tool. Used well, it can help you succeed in your work.

Each section holds lots of different resources which you can use when completing your essays. You can read the module guide, check the assessment criteria, view examples, revisit lessons, post on discussion boards and read feedback.

All of these activities can help you stay on track while you’re writing your assignments and check you’ve included everything that’s required.

Now we’ve covered some of the don’ts around writing essays, come along to the workshops run by Student and Library Services to find out more about the dos and sharpen your academic writing skills. 

You can also watch recordings of previous workshops or look at support materials via the skills guides on the Learning Hub website.

Author: Lauren

Since completing her undergraduate studies in Journalism at Teesside University, Lauren has taken on the role of Communications Assistant (Content Production). She knows a thing or two about student life, as she’s currently working towards achieving her master’s degree at the University.