Common mistakes in Essay Writing

Writing great essays is a craft that cannot be mastered overnight. It requires constant practice in the right direction. Given the high weightage provided to Essay writing in the selection process of various top MBA colleges including the IIMs, it is important for an aspirant to master this craft. In this article, we point out certain mistakes that you must avoid inorder to write effective essays.
1. Fill Sentences
While writing, you should streamline your essay by avoiding redundant sentences.
  • Avoid sentences that do not forward your argument.
  • Avoid asking a question that you answer later.
  • Avoid sentences that announce that you are shifting the topic.
Instead, use transitional phrases instead of writing sentences to change your subject.
FILL: Who should be the next president? I think Mike Dukakis should give it another try.
TO THE POINT: Mike Dukakis should make a second bid for the presidency.
2. Be Concise
Do not use multiple words when one will do. Writers tend to add phrases like "take into consideration" in order to sound scholarly. This only makes the text sound inflated and sophomoric. Don't use excessive and unnecessary verbiage.
WORDY: I am of the opinion that the following managers should be admonished for their use of customer response services.
CONCISE: We should tell the managers to enhance customer service.
3. Qualification
Writing an essay on the Analysis of Issue is walking a tight rope. You have to be persuasive about your argument, yet you cannot be excessively one-sided. The Analysis of Issue questions do not have a clear-cut "answer" to the essay topic, so do not overstate your case. To express that you are reasonable, sporadically use qualifiers such as fairly, rather, somewhat, relatively, and such expressions as seems to be, a little, and a certain amount of. However, excessive use of qualification will dilute your argument and weaken the essay.
WORDY: The Hess spy case was rather serious breach of national security and likely helped the Soviets.
CONCISE: The Hess spy case breached national security and helped the Soviets.
4. Start Strong
Try not to begin a sentence with There is, There are, or It is.
These roundabout expressions usually indicate that you are trying to distance yourself from the position you are taking. Weak openings usually result from writing before you think- hedging until you find out what you want to say.
5. Active & Passive Voice
The passive voice is weak because it diminishes accountability. When you use the active voice the verb performs an action. The passive voice does not directly suggest that the user does something.
The passive voice is useful on occasions. For example, if you wish to express something without blaming anyone or the question is of responsibility. For example "collateral damage has taken place". The sentence blames no one and does not assign who actually did it.
PASSIVE: The assignment was completed by John in record time.
ACTIVE: John completed the assignment in record time.
6. Self-Reference
Effective writing should not include phrases as "I believe," "I feel," and "In my opinion." The panelists know whose opinion is being expressed and he need not be reminded.
WEAK: I am of the opinion that excessive self-reference may add a level of pomposity to an otherwise effective essay.
FORCEFUL: Excessive self-reference may add a level of pomposity to an otherwise effective essay.
Self-reference, like qualification, is effective when used sparingly.
7. Redundancy
The unnecessary repetition of an idea is called Redundancy. It implies lack of experience by itself. You may eliminate redundant words or phrases without changing the meaning of the sentence.
Watch out for words that add nothing to the sense of the sentence.
Here are some common redundancies:
Redundant Phrase Concise Phrase
  1. Refer back to
  2. Few in number few
  3. Small-sized small
  4. Grouped together grouped
  5. In my own personal opinion in my opinion
Redundancy often results from carelessness, but you can easily eliminate redundant elements when proofreading.
8. Vague Writing
Don't just ramble on when you're writing your essays. Choose specific, descriptive words. Vague language weakens your writing because it forces the reader to guess what you mean instead of concentrating fully on your ideas and style.
WEAK: Brown is highly educated.
FORCEFUL: Brown has a master's degree in business administration.
Notice that sometimes, to be more specific and concrete, you will have to use more words than you might with vague language. This principle is not in conflict with the general objective of concision. Being concise may mean eliminating unnecessary words. Avoiding vagueness may mean adding necessary words to illustrate your point.
9. Cliché
Cliches are overused expressions, expressions that may once have seemed colorful and powerful but are now dull and worn out. Time pressure and anxiety may make you lose focus; and that is when cliches may slip into your writing. A reliance on cliches will suggest you are a lazy thinker. Keep them out of your essay.
WEAK: Performance in a difficult situation is the acid test for a leader.
FORCEFUL: Performance in a difficult situation is the best indicator of a leader's abilities.
10. Jargon
There are two types of jargons you should avoid. The first is the specialized vocabulary of a group, often used by a group of people such as doctors, lawyers, or coaches. The second is the overly flowery and complex language that complicates the essay. Using words that do not fit the tone or context of your essay will not impress anyone.
If you are not sure of a word's meaning or contextual appropriateness, leave it out. A simple but appropriate word will add more impact to your argument. When you come across words you are unsure of, ask yourself "Would a reader of a different field be able to understand what exactly I mean from the words I have written?" "Is there any way I can say the same thing more simply?"
Here are some sample jargon phrases:
  • optimize
  • time frame
  • utilize (use)
  • finalize (end, complete)
  • conceptualize (imagine, think)
11. Voice Shifting
If you are writing an explanatory essay, an occasional self-reference os okay. You can even call yourself "I" if you want, as long as you keep the number of first person pronouns to a minimum. However, less egocentric ways of referring to the narrator are "we" and "one." If these ways seem too format, stay with "I."
For example:
• In my lifetime, I have seen many challenges to the principle of free speech.
• We can see...
• One must admit...
The method of self-reference you select is the narrative voice of your essay. Any of the above narrative voices are acceptable. However, whichever you choose, you must be careful not to shift narrative voice in your essay. If you write 'we' in the first sentence, do not use "I" in a later sentence.
INCORRECT: In my lifetime, I have seen many issues to the principle of free speech. We can see how a free society can get too complacent when free speech is taken for granted.
Likewise, it is wrong to shift from "you" to "one"
INCORRECT: Just by following the news, you can readily see how politicians have a vested interest in pleasing powerful interest groups. But one should not generalize about this tendency.
12. Colloquialisms
Conversational speech is full of slang and colloquial expressions. However, you should avoid slang on your essays. Slang terms and colloquialisms can be confusing to the reader. Even worse, a colloquial writing style may give readers a poor impression of your education, and may even look arrogant.
INAPPROPRIATE: He is really into cooking.
CORRECT: He enjoys cooking.
13. Sentences
Beware of two common caveats:
Sentence fragment, which is a statement with no independent clause
Run-on sentence, which is a combination of two or more independent clauses that are improperly connected
Sentence Fragments
Every sentence in formal writing must have an independent clause: a clause that expresses a complete thought and can stand alone. Dependent clauses do not express a complete thought and cannot stand alone. Errors are made when dependent clauses are used. Independent clauses contain a subject and a predicate and do not begin with a subordinate conjunction.
NOTE: Starting a single-clause sentence with coordinate conjunctions like and, but, or, nor, for is acceptable in moderation, although it is not the ideal english usage.
INCORRECT: Melting Glaciers. That is what the scientists and
journalists are worried about this month.
CORRECT: Melting glaciers is the cause of concern for
scientists and journalists this month.
Run-On Sentences
Shortage of time may also cause you to write two or more sentences as one. When you proofread your essays, look out for independent clauses that are not joined with any punctuation or are only joined with a comma.
'Current healthcare practices are unfair they discriminate against the people who need healthcare most.'
You can correct run-on sentences in two ways. First, you could use a full-stop to make distinct sentences of the independent clauses. The second method of repairing a run-on sentence is usually the most effective. Use a conjunction to turn an independent clause into a dependent one and to make explicit how the clauses are related.
CORRECT: Current insurance practices are unfair, in that they discriminate against the people who need insurance most. One cause of run-on sentences is the misuse of adverbs like however, nevertheless, furthermore, likewise, and therefore.
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