How to Avoid Common Pitfalls in Writing

Learning how to avoid the most common writing mistakes is necessary for not only maintaining your credibility as a writer, but also for improving your own skill level.

Here are a few of the most common mistakes in writing and what you can do to avoid them.

  1. Keep your writing as simple as possible. Try to limit each sentence to one new point only.
  2. Know and follow the correct format. Follow the guidelines for the format you are writing in.
  3. Write for your audience. Know who your intended audience or reader will be and write with them in mind.
  4. Use a comma where a comma is needed. Commas are used to imply pauses between words. They might seem unimportant, but they are actually quite significant.

Commas should always be used:

  1. After and introductory word or phrase. There should ALWAYS be a comma between the introductory phrase and the remainder of the sentence. For example, Last week, I missed the bus three times.
  2. In a compound sentence. A compound sentence is any sentence that has multiple parts that could each be a sentence on their own, joined by a conjunction. Prior to the conjunction, add a comma. For example, The instructions sounded easy enough, but Heather glued her fingers together.
  3. With a non restrictive element. Whenever there is a part of a sentence that could be omitted, and the rest of the sentence would still make sense, it is proper to use a comma before and after that element in order to separate it from the rest of the sentence. For example, At Disney Land, the happiest place on Earth, there are over 100 amusement rides.
  4. In a series. If you are making a list, it is advised to use a comma after each noun, except in journalism. For example, Brad needed to pick up flour, cheese, pepperoni and sauce.
  1. Pay attention to verb endings. Remember to end every verb correctly. For example, He spill the water all over the counter is missing the necessary ending for the verb spill. This sentence should be written as, He dropped the water all over the counter.
  2. Pay attention to prepositions. She was standing in the middle of the crowd and She was standing on the middle of the crowd mean two separate things. Always use the correct preposition.
  3. Try to stay away from comma splices. Attempting to connect two clauses that could each be a sentence on their own is a comma splice. She hated the flowers, herex boyfriend bought them every time he forgot to take the garbage out is an example of this. The previous sentence could be fixed with a semicolon or a period, or by connecting each clause with a word like and or because or by rewriting the sentence so that it made more sense. She hated the flowers because her ex boyfriend bought them every time he forgot to take the garbage out.
  4. Try to avoid starting a sentence with a conjunction. When you are writing, try to avoid beginning a sentence with a conjunction. If you must, make sure that you’ve written a complete sentence.
    • Conjunctions are words like and, but, because …
  5. Always use clear pronouns
  6. Decide whether or not to use contractions and stick with it. This might boil down to the preference of your instructor, contractions are often considered to be informal.
  7. Pay attention to apostrophes. If something is ‘possessive’ you must use an apostrophe. For example, the Girls’ restroom or John’s book.
  8. Don’t use sentence fragments. Always write in complete sentences (with proper subjects, verbs, etc.) A sentence fragment is one that is missing its subject. For example, “Drove home after practice last night” is an example of a sentence fragment, who drove home after practice last night?
  9. Pay attention to proper verb tense. Try to avoid using verbs that do not indicate when an action has, will or is to happen. For example, Jane has went to class should be Jane has gone to class.
  10. Stay away from run on sentences. A run on sentence is a sentence comprised of two or more sentences. For example, his knees bled he fell of his bike could be better written by adding ‘as’ and a comma. He fell off his bike, as his knees bled.
  11. Always make the right word choices. A dictionary or a thesaurus will help to ensure that you are always using the most appropriate words. There are words that might sound similar, but mean very different things, so always double check if you are unsure. For example, illusion and allusion sound similar, but do not mean the same thing.
    • Then vs. Than
    • It’s vs. Its

Ways of Avoiding Common Pitfalls

In order to mature your writing skill, and to help yourself to write more concisely, you should pay attention to the overuse of expletives, particularly at the start of a sentence.

Expletives are phrases that make use of the form it + be-verb or there _ be-verb. These phrases are effective in certain situations, but when they are overused or used in the incorrect manner, they create wordy and redundant paragraphs and phrases. As an example, “it is crucial that we figure out how to better optimize our budget”. The same meaning could have been conveyed with more succinct wording, “We must optimize our budget.” In using expletive construction, the writer is emphasizing the importance of the situation with the use of the word ‘crucial’ closer to the beginning of the sentence, so the expletive version might be preferable.

Regardless, it is best to avoid the overuse of expletives. The most common type of unneeded expletive construction is when an expletive is followed by a noun and a relative clause starting with which, that or who. In many cases, concision occurs after eliminating the expletive opening, making that noun the sentence subject, and then removing the relative pronoun.

Wordy: It is the president who determines or does away with our policies (12 words)
Concise: The president determines policy (four words)

Wordy: There are twelve steps that must be followed (eight words)
Concise: Twelve steps should be followed (five words)

Additionally, remember to avoid the overuse of noun forms of verbs,  Whenever possible, use verbs rather than noun forms like nominalizations. Sentences that consist of multiple nominalizations typically have many forms of ‘be’ as their main verb. Try using action verbs to create engaging copy.

Wordy: The function of the sales department is to sell office equipment (eleven words)
Concise: The sales team sells office equipment (six words)

Wordy: The focus of the afterschool program is on homework help and healthy snacks (thirteen words)
Concise: The afterschool program provides healthy snacks and homework help (nine words)

Wherever possible, stay away from unnecessary infinitive phrases. These are phrases that can be changed into brief noun phrases or finite verbs.

Wordy: The responsibility of the administrator is to review all incoming mail and deliver it to the right contact. (Eighteen words)
Concise: The administrator verifies and delivers all incoming mail. (Eight words)

Lastly, avoid circumlocution. Circumlocutions, or periphrases, are expressions that require multiple words to say something that could be said more succinctly. Oftentimes, we overlook these because many of the phrases we say are simply commonly expressed figures of speech. However, when writing, they need to be avoided since they typically add to the word count, without adding to the meaning or value. This is not to say that you might choose to an expletive instead of a more succinct expression, on occasion.

Wordy: As this time (three words)
Concise: Now (one word)

Wordy: Based on your request (four words)
Concise: As you requested (three words)

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What is a Writing Pitfall – Definition

A pitfall is a likely mistake or problem in your writing. Most often than not, the common pitfalls are simply bad habits or avoidable mistakes that writers begin to recognize and improve upon, over time, with practice.

Examples of common pitfalls include:

  • Spelling and grammar mistakes
  • Using punctuation too much or too little
  • Run-on sentences
  • Using incorrect verb tense

Using Concise Language To Improve Your Writing

When endeavoring to use more concise language, you might try exchanging longer circumlocutions for simpler words.

“Because,” “Since” or “Why” could be used in replace of:

  • The reason for
  • For the reason that
  • Owing or do to the fact that
  • In light of the fact that
  • Considering that fact that
  • On the ground of
  • This is why

“When” could be used in replace of:

  • On the occasion that
  • In the situation when
  • Under the circumstances that

“About” could be used in replace of:

  • As regards
  • In reference to
  • With regard to the matter of
  • Concerning the matter of

“Must” or “Should” could be used in replace of:

  • It is crucial that
  • It is necessary to
  • There is a need for
  • It is important that
  • Cannot be avoided

“Can” could be used in replace of:

  • Is able to
  • Has the chance to
  • Has the capacity for
  • Has the ability to

Some Examples of Common Pitfalls Writers Often Face

Here is a list of some of the most common writing pitfalls.

  1. Not having a clear thesis. Your reader needs to quickly determine what the argument in your paper is going to be. Your thesis statement does not specifically need to stay “this paper is about” but your reader should not have to guess to figure it out.
  2. Lack of transitionary sentences or words. You might have written an intelligent, thought provoking and concise paragraph but you can’t simply go on to the next paragraph and leave it at that. You need to clearly indicate that connection between relevant paragraphs and express to your reader why you have chosen to provide them with the information that you are presenting them with. This is done with a few relevant transition sentences to help you not only indicate that you are moving from one statement to the next, but also help you to build your argument.
  3. Not properly addressing your assignment. Make sure that you read the instructions of your assignment thoroughly. Always ask for clarification if you think you will need it.
  4. The overuse of quotes. Using quotes, whenever they are relevant, can help to add weight to your paper and also add an interesting element. But, if your paper is filled with random quotes, particularly if they have no connection to the subject matter, will only serve the purpose of telling anyone who happens to read your paper that you spent no time preparing.

Clear lack of proofreading or editing. This is one of the most important steps of the writing process. Always proofread your paper. Better yet, ask someone else to read it over for you. IF you are unable to find someone else to read it, read it yourself – out loud. This might sound strange, but it is the best way to determine if everything reads and sounds proper and allows your ears to pick up on errors that your eyes might have missed.

More information about concise in a sentence.

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