Writer's WebCommon Pitfalls and Professors' Pet Peeves

Common Pitfalls and Fallacies


Generalization occurs when a writer makes a statement like, "all fish are bass". Obviously that is not true, although many fish definitely are bass. In a more historical writing context, such a statement could be easily proven incorrect. Writers need to carefully review their texts and get rid of such unsubstantiated generalizations.

Reductive Fallacy

A reductive fallacy occurs when a writer uses a phrase which effectively limits diversity to one thing, through phrases like "nothing but". History teaches that all events are complex, and stating that the Civil War was caused by slavery reduces a complex event to a much undeserved simplicity.


Tautology occurs when the writer has different wordings of the same thing acting on each other as though they were separate. An example would be, "English aggressiveness spurred the nation to stimulate commerce on the seas and win the supremacy of trade routes." So, English aggressiveness works on England, and England works on English commerce. Obviously, the three are the same, but the writer treats them as being different.

Misplaced Literalism

Misplaced literalism occurs when a writer takes someone's words out of context. If you merely quote a short passage from a book, you may not get an accurate idea of what the author's opinion is. Quotes are all right, but the sentences around them must be perused to determine if there are contradictions to the quoted passage.

Note: The preceding work incorporated material from The Modern Researcher (Barzun & Graff, 146-48).

Common pitfalls for younger students:

Common pitfalls for older students:

Professors' Pet Peeves

Also see the Writer's Web list of faculty pet peeves


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