Writing Center Title, The First Year
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Common Mistakes in First Year WritingWriter's Web
Content by Astoria Aviles and Gabrielle Pound, Site by Megan Venable

(printable version here)

Writing during your first year can be compared to the first draft of an essay assignment. As you are trying new techniques and facing more challenging material or assignments, you will probably make some mistakes that you can improve on later! Every draft has at least some component that can be improved, just as every writer becomes better by recognizing the weak points in a draft and strengthening them through revision.

Q: "Are there any specific patterns or mistakes, whether grammatical or stylistic, that you commonly see in your first year classes?"

A: Joyce MacAllister, Ph.D., Associate Professor of English:

Video Transcript

Key Points

1. Content: Get specific!

  • "Move from generalizations;" narrow your thesis. Ex: "Black Beauty is a tale about horses." Who tells the tale? Of horses, what about horses? The thesis can be narrowed to something like: "Anna Sewell's tale Black Beauty explores the abuse of horses in 19th century England."
  • Originality comes from your evidence and argument."You could argue something that everybody would maybe agree with but by showing different evidence, details, and examples from the text - that's where the value rests."

2. Language and style

  • When combining ideas and evidence, be sure to do so correctly! Beware of comma splicing, and make sure to use semicolons appropriately.
  • Divide paragraphs logically. If a paragraph is too long or too short, it can be ineffective. Think about "what your reader needs," and make sure that each paragraph argues your topic sentence, a sort of mini-thesis. See our information about "glossing," a technique which will help you evaluate the focus of your ideas.
  • Dr. MacAllister stresses the importance of the rhetorical. Remember to consider your audience; you are writing to communicate something to someone!
  • Equal ideas in a sentence deserve equal emphasis. Parallel structure reflects the similarity of two ideas through the similarity of their presentation in your writing.
  • Be careful when using overly general terms such as "society." Consider: "What do I mean by this? Can I give my reader more information? Can I make my writing more detailed?". Challenge yourself to fully express what you mean!
  • Use Writer's Web to review other grammatical rules and organizational techniques.

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