Top 20 Common Writing Errors that Appear in 95% of Academic Essays

Hey there! Have you ever submitted a paper riddled with numerous errors? Wow, you’re a gutsy one. One commandment in academic writing is to proofread your paper for mistakes. Maybe you don’t know this, but your teacher might be exasperated right now from checking your paper — especially if it is full of common writing errors. Or, even memetic mistakes, which were covered in our summer Scholarship Essay Contest, which has been recently renewed for autumn!

The common writing errors I will discuss are considered as classical mistakes! Hence, they never get old. They are present no matter how much time has passed (unless someone puts a stop to it).

How do you save your teacher from stressing themselves out? Easy, all you have to do is read this guide to reduce the number of mistakes in your essay.

Six Common Writing Errors of ESL Students

ESL students who do not make common writing errors in their essays.

English is a challenge for foreign speakers. Given that, the following list is based on my own research and experiences (in learning the English language). Also, it is worth noting that I usually see these errors when interacting with friends who speak English as their second language.

1Word Usage

The words “affect” and “effect” are commonly interchanged by students. However, these two words are completely different. Oxford Dictionary states that “Affect” means,

  • “to influence”
  • “make a difference to.”


  • The typhoon will affect the farmer’s crops.

  • Did my behavior affect you?

Meanwhile, “effect” means,

  • “A change which is a result or consequence of an action or other cause.”


  • What do you think are the effects of armed conflict?

  • Every decision we make has an effect.

It is also common to interchange “fun” and funny” and “principle and “principal”. My advice to you is to check the dictionary for clarifications. Don’t forget to look for examples online. Most importantly, practice using the word in a sentence.

2'Then' and 'than'

According to the Oxford Dictionary, “Then” is defined as,

  • “at that time”
  • “after that”
  • “therefore”


  • I made that mistake because I was young back then.

  • If you can’t improve your grades for this semester, then I will not buy you an Xbox.

On the other hand, “than” means,

  • “Introducing the second element in a comparison.”
  • “Used in expressions introducing an exception or contrast.”


  • My picture is more beautiful than yours.

  • They acted on their emotions rather than their rationality.

3“It’s” and “its”

“It’s” is a contraction of “it is”, while “its” is the possessive form of “it”.


  • It is sunny today. → It’s sunny today. (Not “Its sunny today.”)

  • The dog licked its paw.

4Omission of “a”, “an”, and “the”

This results in awkward sounding phrases or sentences. As a short review, “A” is used for words that begin with a consonant sound. You add “an” if the word starts with a vowel sound.


  • You have to learn how to drive car.
    →You have to learn how to drive a car.

  • The teacher gave me a hour to answer the test.
    → The teacher gave me an hour to answer the test. (“Hour” is pronounced with a vowel sound.)

  • There’s ant.
    → There’s an ant.

In general, “the” is used before a superlative adjective and certain adjectives. It is also used to indicate something that is unique. Interestingly, “the” is written to make adjectives have a plural meaning.


  • Jackie is most resourceful person.
    → Jackie is the most resourceful person.
  • Let sun shine down on me.
    → Let the sun shine down on me!
  • We should help poor.
    → We should help the poor.

5Incorrect comparatives or superlatives

Are you used to adding “er” after a word (Ex: Prettier, nicer, cooler, hotter)? If so, you have to be prepared to make the necessary adjustments.


  • Good → Better (not “more better”) → Best (not “bestest”)

  • Beautiful → More beautiful (not “beautifuller”) → Most beautiful (not “beautifullest”)

  • Bad → Worse → Worst (Even I myself get confused with the superlative and comparative forms of “bad”.)

6Incorrect spelling

It’s self-explanatory. This might be due to how the words are pronounced in English. Hence, students tend to spell the words the same way as they are pronounced.


  • Bed joke! → Bad joke!

  • It picked my interest. → It piqued my interest. (I was guilty of this once.)

  • Encestors → Ancestors

  • Occassion → Occasion

  • Marry Christmas! → Merry Christmas!

Five Common Writing Errors Made by High School Students

A class full of those who make common writing errors.

I used to take my high school English classes for granted, especially if the lessons are about grammar. Admittedly, I found it uninteresting. For those people who are bored of grammar lessons, bear in mind that those lectures are for your own good.

For instance, we at Homework Lab cater to the needs of students of all levels and backgrounds to help them in their academic needs. We teach them the essentials and help them grow. After all, it’s a collaborative platform! You’ll never be bored again!

For this section, I asked a high school English teacher on his opinion about this topic. Outlined below are the insights I got from him:

1Subject-verb agreement

It’s tricky, so let’s try to recall the basics of subject-verb agreement. A singular subject requires a singular verb. Alternatively, a plural subject has to be paired with a plural verb.


  • I understands your point. → I understand your point.

  • The cats likes to play with yarn. → The cats like to play to with yarn.

If your sentence has “either/or” or “neither/nor”, you have to use a verb that agrees closest to the noun or pronoun. Further, subjects connected with “and” are plural.


  • Either George or Jake is arriving at the zoo today.

  • Neither Jade nor Zach is answering my call.

  • Neither Jack nor his friends are going to the e-sports event.

  • Writing and drawing are my favorite hobbies.

The subject is standalone if your sentence includes the words “along with”, “as well as”, and “besides”. Use the appropriate verb form for your subject/s.


  • The celebrity, along with her bodyguards, is walking down the aisle.

In this sentence, you have to ignore “bodyguards” and “along with” because they are not considered as subjects.


Sometimes, students are so preoccupied with informal writing (Ex: texting) that they have forgotten how to punctuate their sentences correctly. Use a period and a question mark for declarative and interrogative sentences respectively.


Text messaging does not usually require people to end their sentences with a punctuation. Yes, even the closing punctuation is incorrect. In essays, these mistakes are not tolerated.

  • What are youdoing. → What are you doing?

  • I will visit my friend in the afternoon → I will visit my friend in the afternoon.

3Usage of commas

Your phrases or sentences will sound funny when you don’t put a comma. Remember, commas save lives. Don’t be a criminal or a killer!


  • Let’s eat my friend! → Let’s eat, my friend!

  • I love to sing dance and cook → I love to sing, dance, and cook.

4Run-on sentences

Don’t sound like a Youtube video running on 2x speed. Learn to relax and use the appropriate punctuation.


  • In case you need a copy of the file I will send it to your email
    → In case you need a copy of the file, I will send it to your email.

5Incorrect plural forms

We’re used to the norm of adding “s” or “es” to singular nouns. However, there are exceptions to this rule. Words ending with “f” change into “ves” in their plural forms. The vowel is also changed when a singular noun is transformed into a plural noun.


  • Elf → Elves

  • Knife → Knives

  • Woman → Women (not “womans”)

  • Man → Men (not “mans”)

  • Child → Children (Not “childs” or “childrens”)

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Nine Common Writing Errors in Academic and Essay Writing

A girl finds common writing errors in her essay and becomes sad.

Student life means writing tons of essays. However, it also means committing mistakes related to academic writing! I am also guilty of committing some of these mistakes. Stop pouting, and start learning.

1Grammar and spelling errors

These should be the most obvious of them all. In grammar, there are usually mistakes in tenses, subject-verb agreement, syntax, and punctuation. It is also common to misspell a person’s name or any other word. Here are some funny stories:

Someone uploaded a photo of their thesis on social media. On the cover page, it said, “Scholol” instead of “school”.

Out of negligence, I spelled “liberalism” as “liberlism” in my college essay.

2Crammed information

Please, you do not have to cram everything into one paragraph. Trust me, it will render your text unreadable. As you can see from the example below, I separated the text into paragraphs for easy reading. This is from my own research paper, and I added a header to avoid confusing my professor.

Security Council

On 2014, a resolution has sought to ensure that perpetrators of violence are held accountable. China and Russia vetoed the resolution. On October 2016, the Security Council drafted a resolution to refer to the “grave concern at the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Syria, and the fact that now more than 13.45 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.” China abstained and Russia vetoed the resolution (McKirdy, 2017).

On December 2016, a resolution was drafted to “cease… any and all attacks in the city of Aleppo to allow urgent humanitarian needs to be addressed for a period of seven days.”China and Russia voted against the resolution. A resolution was drafted to condemn the chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun and called for an international investigation into the perpetrators (McKirdy, 2017).

Russia vetoed the resolution (McKirdy, 2017). Russia’s Deputy UN Envoy Vladimir Safronkov claimed that the purpose of the resolution was to assign blame before an independent investigation could take place. US UN Ambassador Nikki Haley argues that Russia is shielding Assad (The Moscow Times, 2017).

3Incorrect format

There are deviant students who refuse to follow the formatting guidelines of their teacher. Please follow your teacher’s instructions if you don’t want to receive a deduction! Let me tell you a true story:

My classmates held a local Model United Nations as per the requirements of the school. We were chairpersons of the said event. Being chairpersons, we oriented students how to write and format their country profiles, policy statements, and draft resolutions. We even provided sample templates for them to copy. The documents they have to submit have to be exactly the same as the samples. Weeks later, our inbox was filled with incorrectly formatted documents (most, but not all). We have no choice but to give them a low grade in formatting.

Surely, you don’t want to end up like these students. Even if you are participating in an event that involves academic writing, you have to adhere to the guidelines set to you by the administrator or the committee.

4Absence of headers

This applies to long research papers. I have to admit that not writing headers arises confusion to the reader. Frankly speaking, headers make your reading experience easier.


Generally speaking, you have to capitalize proper nouns such as the names of countries, people, places, and things.

When you are writing titles, don’t capitalize the following (Unless they are the first word):

  • Articles (a, an, the)
  • Coordinating conjunctions (and, or, but, for, so, yet, and etc.)
  • Prepositions (on, at, to, and etc.)


  • The Taming of the Shrew

  • Pride and Prejudice

  • And Then There Were None

  • Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)

  • Big Ben

  • Julius Caesar

  • Facebook


Avoid writing contractions in your papers, as they are considered as informal writing. Be formal!


  • Can’t → Cannot

  • Don’t → Do not

  • Didn’t → Did not

7Not citing sources and committing plagiarism

That’s academic dishonesty! Please learn how to cite your sources. There’s nothing bad in giving credit to the original author. Of course, you have to credit yourself if you used your own work as a reference.

8Excessive direct quotations

It is okay to use direct quotations but use them strategically. Some teachers impose a limit on the number of quotations you can embed in your essay (Ex: 10% of the word count). Don’t abuse this privilege!

9Filler content

It’s a classic “technique” to make your paper longer. Anything you write has to be related to your topic. Hence, it is best to know the scope and limitations of your chosen subject matter.


Checklist of Common Writing Errors

Bob tries to find common writing errors.

Feel free to use the checklist below for your academic writing needs. As always, you may add or change any element/s of the checklist. I recommend letting someone tick each box in the list. If not, you can do it by yourself.

  • Are there any spelling or grammatical errors?
  • Did I write a thesis statement?
  • Did I abide by the rules of capitalization?
  • Did I dedicate a separate paragraph for each of my main points?
  • Did I use contractions in my paper?
  • Did I format my in-text citations and references page correctly?
  • Did I follow my teacher’s formatting guidelines?
  • Did I write sufficient examples? Did I also provide evidence to support my claim/s?
  • Did I provide the complete form of an abbreviation once in my paper? (Ex: European Union is abbreviated as “EU”)
  • Did I deviate from the topic?
  • Did I use a signal phrase in my essay? (Ex: “On the other hand”)


No common writing errors should occur.


Wow! That’s a lot! I hope you learned something today. Everyone makes mistakes, whether you’re a native speaker or not. However, you should push yourself to keep honing our language skills.

It takes practice and constant feedback to correct something wrong. You also need to have a watchful eye, so that your paper will be error free. Your teacher does his/her role in educating you, but you also have to fulfill your part of the trade.

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How about you? What other writing errors do you notice in essays? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

See you next time!

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