The Most Common Writing Mistakes on College Essays

Staff Writer
Apr 26, 2022

When you’re studying to be a nurse or healthcare professional, you’re going to have to write essays in school. Essays are an integral part of education, and for good reason. They aren’t just busywork, but times to practice and prepare for writing reports and analyzing patient information. Catching typos and errors can benefit your grades and future career, so once you’ve run spellcheck and read through your essay twice, look for these common writing mistakes before you turn in your college essay.

1. Homophones

Homophones are words like “are” and “our,” “right” and “write,” or “bear” and “bare” that can sound the same to your ear but mean very different things when your professor is reading them on the page. These can be very common writing mistakes, because the spelling is, technically, correct, and because when you write, you’re often speaking the sentences to yourself, so your mind is in an audible mode.

They’re trickiest when homophones mean something similar, too—like “affect” and “effect.” The differences can be slight, but when they’re noticed they’re jarring, drawing the focus away from what you’re saying to how you’re (incorrectly) saying it.

2. Incorrect Apostrophes

Apostrophes have two uses: To indicate possession (“Those are Dawn’s scrubs.”) or to create contractions (“Are not” > “Aren’t”).

They are not used to make words plural (“stethoscopes,” not “stethoscope’s”), not even when you’re writing about multiple family members (hence Fred, Wilma, and Pebbles are “the Flintstones”).

Remembering that can help you avoid a lot of common writing mistakes, but pay close attention to these, which also happen to be homophones:

Who’s is a contraction, meaning “who is,” whereas whose indicates possession: “Annie Wilkes is the client whose pet pig broke her arm.”
Its is also possessive, but without the apostrophe, since it’s means “it is.”

3. Comma Splices

You can, and probably should, take a whole course on commas. They’re one of the trickiest parts of grammar, and sometimes debatable, so we can only graze the surface of their rules. One of the most obvious and most common comma mistakes in college essays are splices.

Comma splices occur when you use a comma to separate two independent clauses (subject + verb) without a conjunction (i.e.: and, or, but, for, nor, so, yet, when). You’re essentially mashing two sentences together with just a comma; that’s something only a semicolon or colon can do (and just did).

The good news: There are a lot of solutions. If you’ve written, “Robb entered the hospital with a wound, he’s asking to see his mother Catelyn,” you can either turn that one sentence into two by swapping the comma for a period, keep it as one but swap it for a semicolon, or add a conjunction—in this case “and now” would probably sound best.

They’re relatively easy to spot if you have short sentences, so be especially vigilant when you’ve written something long, when a comma splice is usually called a “run-on.”

4. Sentence Fragments

An opposite but equally common writing mistake is the sentence fragment, which lacks any independent clauses, commas or not.

To create a sentence, you need a subject and a verb. Everything else, technically, is superfluous. “Go.” is a sentence, with the silent, imperative “You” understood as the subject. “Valerie acts.” is also short and sweet and right on the money. Sentence fragments aren’t about length, though that can be an indicator. They just mean that a sentence is lacking both a subject and a verb.

Sometimes they’re used stylistically, set after a correct sentence: “The vice president read about her nicknames. With horror.”

Or, they have a noun and a verb, but they’re technically dependent clauses: “When Patrick first moved to San Francisco.”

Neither of the above examples are full sentences. They’re fragments, and stylistic or not, they’re inappropriate for a college essay.

At Joyce, we’re committed to helping our students succeed in any program they choose. We want to help our students write their best and be their best. If you’re interested in learning more about becoming a Nurse or OTA, request more info.

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