Everyone writes an academic essay that crashes.

It doesn’t get the grade you hoped it would, there are comments and corrections along the margins or even just a low grade. It hurts, eats away at your confidence, and it’s especially hard when it happens at the beginning of the academic year. But you don’t need to feel that way.  If you want to compose successful academic essays there are writing mistakes you need to avoid. 

As an academic writing tutor and teacher, I’ve seen the 5 most common mistakes students make in their essays every year.   

  1. Writing a vague thesis statement
  2. Not having enough facts and evidence to support the thesis statement
  3. Not including their original ideas and analysis
  4. Writing too many long and confusing sentences
  5. Not revising and editing their essays

Fortunately, you don’t have to fall into the trap of repeating these mistakes because we’re diving into these issues. So, you can solve these problems or (even better) avoid them! 

 The 5 Worst Writing Mistakes to Avoid in Your Essays

5 Worst Academic Essay Writing Mistakes to Avoid

# 1  A vague thesis statement

A thesis statement expresses your claim or perspective on a topic and why or how.  A vague thesis statement stops at explaining a point of view. Here’s an example of a vague thesis statement: 

High school students should need to complete half a year of community service.   

What makes this vague is that it doesn’t reveal why high school students should do community service for half a year.   A good thesis statement tells the reader why this is so. 

How do you avoid this? 

You ask yourself why or how is this claim valid?  Here’s a revision of the above thesis statement: 

High school students should need to complete half a year of community service before they graduate because it teaches them how to make a difference in the world.  

I fixed this statement by answering this question, “Why? What is my reason for this belief?”   My answer is then filled in after adding the word “because.” 

Other times you will write a thesis statement that explains how something happens.  In that case, ask yourself “How does an argument or process happen?” Always, go deeper than a general statement of what something is by asking yourself how and why.  


#2 Not enough evidence or facts to support your thesis

Sometimes this is because there isn’t any evidence. You’ve chosen a topic and written a thesis statement that doesn’t have a lot of facts to support it.   Other times it’s because you’ve focused more on your ideas and opinion and not the evidence.   


How do you avoid this?  

Look for evidence and support before you decide on your thesis statement (you should know before you start writing an essay that you can support it).  A lot of people don’t spend enough time in the prewriting phase. So, they don’t evaluate their topics to see if there is support for their claims. Check for sources before you commit to writing an essay on a topic. 

If you can’t find facts and supporting details, you shouldn’t write an academic essay on that topic. If you brainstorm during the prewriting phase of the academic writing process, you should have a list of possible topics. Select another topic and check to see if there is research.  Read more about how to do this in my blog post, https://www.academicwritingsuccess.com/5-prewriting-activities-for-academic-writing/.


#3 Lack of original ideas

This mistake happens when people present facts, but fail to explain how or why they demonstrate a point.  An obvious example is when someone writes a quotation without adding any analysis or interpreting what it means, or this could be a fact a person doesn’t discuss. 


How do you avoid this? 

When you are copying and collecting evidence, write a quick note on what that evidence means.  Ask yourself, “What does this mean?” about every piece of evidence. When you draft your essay, these notes help you add your analysis and ideas about the evidence you include. 

When you revise your draft, highlight where you have facts and quotations. Then read it to see if you explained what that evidence meant. If not, add an analysis. 

#4  Too many long and confusing sentences

This mistake is where your sentences are lengthy and contain so many words and phrases that it’s hard to follow your point.  When someone reads your essay, they should see sentence variety. Simple sentences balance out complex and compound-complex sentences.  Creating a mix of sentences makes it easier for your reader to understand your argument.   

Most of the time, this happens because people use too many words and phrases that aren’t necessary or could be said in a shorter amount of time because they want to sound “academic.”  


How do you avoid this?  

When you get enough practice writing in a more concise language, you will avoid this more often.  For now, I will advise you on how to spot it and fix it. 

Highlight your long sentences in a different color from what you used before.  Read them over. Ask yourself:

  • Is it difficult to read, and are there ways I can make it more transparent?
  • Can I take out words and phrases and not change the meaning? 
  • Can I break this sentence up? 

This is a skill that needs to be practiced, and you will probably need feedback on making sentences clearer, so get someone else to read the essay.  

Hemingway Editor and Slick Write are 2 useful online tools that will help you edit hard to read sentences.  You can learn more about them in my post, “The Top 8 Free Online Editing Tools for Writing Excellent Research Papers.” https://www.academicwritingsuccess.com/8-free-online-editing-tools-for-writing-excellent-research-papers/


#5 Not revising and editing the essay

Self-Editing Academic Essay Checklist

It’s obvious when someone hasn’t revised and edited their work. Not only are there spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes, but often the content of an essay is weak too.  

You should revise and edit every academic essay you write because it often makes the difference between an A or B, B or C, or C and D essay.  

Revising focuses on an essay’s content and organization.  Editing deals with spelling, grammar, punctuation and referencing style. It’s easy for a reader to know when you didn’t proofread something yourself. Teachers and professors will spot those types of errors because they interrupt their reading.  


How do you avoid this?

Make sure your content is on-topic and supports your main ideas and thesis statement.  Also, check to see that the essay has a logical writing organization, and the writing flows well.     

If you’re not familiar with how to evaluate whether your content is strong and well-organized you probably need to work with someone who can read your first draft and give you feedback on it.  Checklists and commenting sheets will help you with that too. Check out my post, “Academic Revising 101: The Essential Essay Revision Checklist” https://www.academicwritingsuccess.com/academic-revising-101-the-essential-essay-revision-checklist/ for a complete breakdown on how to revise your writing.

You avoid spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors by leaving enough time to edit.  If you struggle with editing, I recommend creating a self- editing checklist of things to look for.  Your list helps you focus on the mistakes you usually make. Check out the infographic, “Self-Editing Academic Essay Checklist” to see what I look for in my writing. 


Read your essay aloud and focus on each sentence to make sure it is correct.  There are some grammar and spelling checkers that can help you, but none are perfect.  


How to Avoid Making Writing Mistakes in Essays

These writing mistakes can be fixed or avoided during the academic writing process.  Going through each phase of the writing process, prewriting, writing a draft, revising, editing and handing in a final draft helps you craft an essay you’re proud of–one you will love handing into a teacher. 

However, if you feel you can’t spot or fix any of those issues on your own get guidance and feedback on your essays.  A teacher or private tutor can help you, or you might find assistance in an academic writing group. 

If you struggle with these writing mistakes and more, sign up for a free consultation and I will give you advice and strategies on how to advance your academic writing at https://www.academicwritingsuccess.com/tutoring-services/.


Want to see what goes into writing an outstanding academic essay?  Join the Academic Writing Success Community and get the free PDF “How to Organize an Amazing Academic Essay Cheat Sheet!”