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Avoiding Common Writing Errors in academic writing

Avoiding Common Writing Errors in academic writing

Writing errors are common across academic papers submitted for publication review. These can lead to a decision to reject, especially if they are prevalent throughout the submission. Even if these errors do not result in a rejection, they will result in significant revisions, which can be tedious and time-consuming. If there are numerous writing errors in the paper, it will interfere with the flow of the writing and distract the reviewers from the quality of the research itself. Being aware of the common errors made in academic writing and how to avoid them can help you to publish successfully.

Using i.e. and e.g.

There are many examples in academic writing where authors use ‘i.e.’ and ‘e.g.’ interchangeably without really understanding what each abbreviation means and how to use it appropriately. The abbreviation ‘e.g.’ is exampli gratia in Latin, which means “for the sake of example” or “for example”. So ‘e.g.’ is used when giving one or two examples of what you are describing in your paper. The term ‘i.e.’ is used when you want to say ‘in other words’. It is an abbreviation of the Latin id est, which means ‘that is’. So, whereas ‘e.g.’ is used to provide an example, ‘i.e.’ is used to provide clarification or an explanation of something in the text. Look at the article excerpts provided below to see how each term should be used.

The first article excerpt (Boonstra, 2012) demonstrates the use of e.g. The author provides some examples of stressors so that the reader can fully understand what is meant by stressors in the context of the article.

I argue that when such stressors occur (e.g., periods of high predation risk, food limitation, prolonged severe weather, social conflict, etc.), although the animal may be chronically stressed, its responses are adaptive and continue to promote fitness. (P. 11)

The second article excerpt (Watts et al., 2018) demonstrates the use of i.e. Here, the authors provide a clarification of what variable means in the context of the sentence. They are not providing an example of a variable.

To generate this clean variation, the observational data set must contain a variable (i.e., instrument) that satisfies two conditions. (P. 541)

Use of commas and semicolons

Commas are often used incorrectly in academic papers. There are many instances where commas are placed where they are not needed, and they are often left out when they should be included. Rules around the use of commas vary across English-speaking countries, for example the rules are not the same in the U.S. as they are in the U.K. One error which occurs frequently is leaving out a comma after an introductory word or phrase. For example, I have correctly placed a comma after the introductory phrase at the beginning of this sentence.

Commas are also used to separate two independent clauses when a connecting word such as ‘and’ or ‘but’ is used. Semicolons should be used to separate two related independent clauses when no connecting word is used. Authors often confuse the use of semicolons and commas in academic papers. Purdue Online Writing Lab provides examples that help authors decide when to use a comma and when to use a semicolon. ‘I am going home, and I intend to stay there.’ is the example they give to illustrate the use of a comma for separating independent clauses and this example, ‘I am going home; I intend to stay there.’ to illustrate the use of a semicolon for separating independent clauses.

Using punctuation correctly with quotations

Academic writers frequently use quotations in their papers, especially in the literature review, or theoretical framework section. Also, when reporting on results of qualitative data such as interviews, a researcher might include quotations to illustrate their findings. However, in many academic papers, punctuation is used incorrectly when quoting. Punctuation can be inserted inside a quote or outside a quote. This depends, in part, on where the journal is published and on what formatting style the publication uses. If you look at what the APA guidelines and MLA guidelines you will see that they say to use commas and periods inside the quotation marks, even if they are not there in the text you are quoting. In British style, however, commas and periods should be used outside the closing quotation marks unless they are part of the quote. A professional author service that provide formatting suggestions based on the style required by your target journal can help you navigate these differences, which can be confusing.

When to use affect or effect

‘Effect’ is typically used to convey the result of something. As such, this word is often a noun. However, it is also used as a verb sometimes and in that case, it generally means ‘to bring about something’. ‘Affect’ on the other hand is most frequently used as a verb meaning ‘to influence something’.

The Purdue Online Writing Lab provides some exercises to help writers understand how to use these words. Some of the examples they provide are outlined below.

1. Wars affect everybody, and their destructive effects last for generations.

2. Television has a strong effect on public opinion.

3. My mood can affect my thinking, too. (Purdue Owl, retrieved online 2021)

Verb tense consistency

Academic writers often start a sentence in one tense and end the sentence in another. Even when authors know to check their papers for verb tense consistency, they are so familiar with the writing that they often do not catch all instances of this error. Sometimes a shift in tense is appropriate and other times it is not. This makes catching verb tense consistency errors even more challenging. One example of an appropriate shift in verb tense provided by Purdue Online Writing Lab is, ‘Harry wants to show his friends the photos he took last summer.’ Here we see that ‘wants’ is in the present tense while ‘took’ is in the past tense. Both the present tense and the past tense are correctly used in this sentence. Another example provided by Purdue Online Writing Lab shows an incorrect shift in verb tense, ‘By the time negotiations began, many pessimists have expressed doubt about them.’ Here the past tense should be used for both verbs, and ‘have’ should be ‘had’.

The examples provided here illustrate that writing rules and styles are not always straightforward and can vary in different contexts. Even when you understand them, finding these types of errors can be complicated and time-consuming. Consistent accurate copyediting and proofing of manuscripts is a skill and something that many academic writers would say is not their area of strength. Furthermore, even if copyediting and proofing is something you are good at when reading other people's papers, it is much more challenging when you are deeply familiar with the writing, as is the case with your own papers. That is why many academics look for support with this task. Colleagues can help, and there may also be support at your institution to help with this. Generally, the most reliable way to seek this support is through reputable professional author services. Using these services will give you confidence that the paper you submit to a journal to consider for publication is the of highest quality and free of writing errors.


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