Common Writing Mistakes on College Essays

Common Writing Mistakes on College Essays

Staff Writer
Apr 22, 2022

Writing is a skill you can work on for the rest of your life.

You can memorize grammar rules, learn certain tricks, and gain a larger vocabulary over time, but you never become a perfect writer … just a better one.

At Joyce, writing is a part of all of our curricula, because it’s such a critical part of life. You may graduate and never deal with another essay for the rest of your life, but as a healthcare professional you’ll write emails, reports, and possibly blogs — so you need to master common writing mistakes while you’re in school. We’ve seen a lot over the years, and we’ve pinpointed five you should watch out for.

1. The wrong or misspelled word

Run spell check on everything you turn in to your instructor, but run a mental spell check too because there are words your computer won’t catch. It’s easy for your mind to write “defiantly” when you meant “definitely,” since they look and sound so similar. Scrutinize your writing for these errors, and consider asking a friend or parent to review big assignments to ensure you haven’t overlooked a mistake.

2. Unnecessary commas

Commas are some of the trickiest punctuation in the English language, and it doesn’t help that some of their rules (like the Oxford comma) are optional. Some, though, are set in stone, so before you misuse commas, review the rules online. You shouldn’t set a prepositional phrase apart with commas (“the students, of Joyce, passed the NCLEX in record numbers”), or add commas in compound constructions that aren’t compound sentences (“That guy seems to know everything about writing, and photography.”). Too many commas looks just as bad as when you’re missing one.

Related Resource: The Most Common Writing Mistakes on College Essays

3. Adding (or forgetting) hyphens

Hyphens are another common writing mistake in college essays, because they’re misunderstood. Rather than detail all of the times you should include a hyphen (“mother-in-law”) and shouldn’t (“fix-up”), you ought to look the word up whenever you think it might be appropriate. Over time, you’ll get a hang of the hyphen rules and learn when you should and shouldn’t use them.

4. Subject-verb agreement

Plural nouns need plural verbs. It’s basic grammar in sentences like that one, where the subject “nouns” is clearly plural, so you know to write “need” and not “needs.” It’s trickier when a plural subject is followed by a prepositional phrase with a singular noun, or vice versa. The rules of English are tricky sometimes, like this sentence, when “English” could be mistaken for the subject. Usually, you can hear that it just sounds wrong (“The rules of English is tricky.”). Sometimes subject-verb agreement is more difficult to catch, so watch out for this mistake in all of your writing.

5. Vague pronoun reference

Similarly, if you’re writing a sentence with a lot of nouns, you need to make sure you’re clear which noun you’re referring to when you use a pronoun.

“The first time Josh met his instructor, he said, ‘You look familiar.’”

Which “he” is that pronoun referring to? Josh or his instructor? If the instructor was female, using she wouldn’t be an issue, but when you’re describing people or things that have the same gender and number (singular or plural), you need to watch your pronouns. Also, be on guard for the word “it.” You may understand whom (or what) you’re referring to, but your reader may not.

We could go on and on; really, there are many common writing mistakes. So when you make them, you’re in good company, but always try to learn from them. At Joyce, we work to help all of our students become better at the skills they’ll need in their careers, which includes writing. If you’re interested in learning more about our nursing program, reach out to us!


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