Common writing mistakes can negatively impact your manuscript’s chance of acceptance. With rejection rates in some top international publications as high as 97%,1 this is something that researchers should worry about. Unlike general day-to-day writing, academic writing requires a special skill set that needs to be nurtured and developed. This requires authors to be objective, concise, and formal in their writing, which should ideally be devoid of common English grammar mistakes. However, an interesting statistic from the 2018 Global Survey Report by Editage reveals that 76% of research authors find it difficult to prepare a well-written, error-free manuscript for journal submission.2 This is not surprising given that the manuscript writing process can be as challenging and time-consuming as conducting research.
However, you can ensure that you deliver high-quality manuscripts that meet the stringent standards set by leading journals. Just make sure to check your work and avoid the most common writing mistakes that budding academics and researchers with English as a second language tend to make.
Here’s a quick list of the seven most common writing and grammar mistakes to look out for before submitting your manuscript.
1. Language errors (word choice, phrasing)
Academic writing is meant to be professional and straightforward, on point but easy to understand, and precise, with no room for misinterpretation. One of the most common mistakes in writing is not using the appropriate tone and style to communicate your research. Keep in mind that language that is generally acceptable in informal writing, such as slang and irregular abbreviations, is considered inappropriate for academic writing.
Another common writing mistake is mixing up words that look or sound similar or not the right words and phrases to convey your meaning clearly and accurately. When using synonyms or rephrasing text, make sure you choose words and phrases that fit the context. Avoid using excessive technical terminology, jargon and cliches, such as “think outside of the box” and “at the end of the day.”
2. Poor grammar (voice, tenses, punctuation)
In academic writing it’s essential to check your work to eliminate common grammar mistakes. Using grammar and punctuation properly helps to emphasize pauses, thoughts, ideas, and even the accuracy of the text. Experts suggest the use of active voice instead of passive voice when writing, for example, “we carried out research”, rather than “research was carried out”. Although some sections of your paper will benefit from the use of passive voice. Similarly, consistency in verb tense usage within a paragraph or between adjacent paragraphs helps to ensure better flow of ideas.
The incorrect use of punctuation marks, such as commas, apostrophes, quotations, colons, and semi-colons, is among the most common grammar mistakes in English that can change the way a message is interpreted, so it is important to understand how to use punctuations properly. Other grammar mistake examples include the misuse of articles, sentence fragmentation, parallelism, and subject-verb agreement.
3. Repetition of ideas (winding sentences)
While writing your thesis, dissertation, or research paper, you will need to keep within the recommended word count. However, academics often resort to describing established concepts or repeating ideas and arguments in different sections of their paper to meet this word count requirement. This common writing mistake shows a lack of proper research and a dearth of original perspectives and can make your research manuscript seem bloated and incoherent.
Academic writing is expected to be clear and concise, so it’s important to maintain a balance between restating key points to highlight critical messages for the reader and becoming overly repetitive to the extent of being irritating or boring. If you find yourself repeating phrases often, avoid this common mistake in writing by using contextual synonyms or rephrasing text differently to convey your research in the most effective way possible.
4. Weak introductions
One of the most common writing mistakes made by early career researchers is that they do not pay sufficient attention to the introduction of the research manuscript. The introduction serves as the reader’s first impression of the article, influencing their decision to either continue reading or skip it. Ensuring that the introduction is captivating and concise is vital. A good introduction helps highlight your topic, main concepts, and background information, which sets the context for your research.
When writing the introduction, researchers must try and find answers to why they chose a specific topic for research – why it is important, why you adopted a particular method or approach, and why it is relevant today. Avoid this type of common writing mistake by striking a balance between being concise and engaging while providing a comprehensive overview of the major concepts in the introduction.
5. Neglecting editing
Having spent long hours on research studies and academic writing, it is tempting to submit your research manuscript to your target journal as soon as it is completed. This is especially true if you are racing against tight deadlines. However, submitting your work without proper editing and final proofreading checks is one of the most common mistakes in writing. Identifying breaks in logic and flow, ensuring consistency in terms of fonts and formatting, eliminating spelling and grammatical mistakes, checking your references and citations, and ensuring that your submission is complete are all essential and critical checks for your manuscript to be accepted for publication.
6. Ignoring recommended guidelines
Most universities and international journals have their own specific set of stringent author guidelines that include instructions about appropriate structure, word count, formatting, fonts, etc. However, a common writing mistake that some budding academics make is ignoring, missing out on, or misinterpreting these important guidelines; this may be seen as a lack of effort or an inability to follow instructions.
In such cases, even if your research may potentially offer a breakthrough in your field, you are likely to be rejected or asked to submit with major revisions. One way to avoid this common writing mistake is to carefully examine the specific guidelines and make notes or checklists on key aspects to include/keep in mind before you start writing to ensure your work is not desk rejection.
One of the most common writing mistakes is plagiarism, which is also the most frequently observed ethical offence. Plagiarism is when text, ideas, concepts, and images are used as is from previously published work without properly crediting the source. Writing that is presented as original, without proper citations is deemed unethical and is considered a copyright infringement by the journal.
Even if this was done inadvertently – failing to cite your sources, paraphrasing, or quoting someone without credit – plagiarism is considered a serious offence and could result in manuscript rejection, penalties, and sometimes even legal action. In fact, even quoting your own previous studies without proper attribution is deemed as plagiarism. To eliminate this common writing mistake and avoid any ethical misconduct, researchers must check their work and ensure that it has all the required citations and is an original piece of work.
- Ghost, M. 11 Reasons Why Research Papers Are Rejected. Scispace, October 2021. Available online at https://typeset.io/resources/11-reasons-why-research-papers-are-rejected/
- Fernandes, A. Our secret recipe (with 5 key ingredients) for a winning manuscript. Editage Insights, December 2020. Available online at https://www.editage.com/insights/our-secret-recipe-with-5-key-ingredients-for-a-winning-manuscript