Common Writing Errors and How to Avoid Them

Standard Essay

  • Thesis is not debatable, with a WHAT/HOW and a WHY assertion
  • Topic Sentences are not debatable – a topic sentence cannot simply state a fact
    • WITH BOTH OF THE ABOVE, if you do not have a debatable assertion for a topic sentence or a thesis, YOU CANNOT ARGUE ANYTHING – you will be writing a plot summary or a book report, not an argument
    • Sometimes, students simply skip over the first topic sentence and start pointing out evidence. It feels repetitive, writing a topic sentence immediately after the thesis, but you MUST do it!
  • Do not use any 1st person (I, me, us) or 2nd person (“you”) pronouns – unless you are in your hook intro or outro, and even then, only with purpose
  • Do not use contractions – they are too casual
  • Do NOT spend any time telling obvious plot points
  • Evidence does not support the thesis – it’s just a list of the most important quotes
  • Evidence (quotes) is not explained – they are paraphrased
  • Evidence (quotes) is not varied – all of quotes are explained in the exact same way
  • Sentence structure is repetitive
  • Essay uses past tense or present progressive (e.g. “is thinking”) tense
  • Language is weak, including IT, IS, THIS, THING, VERY, CLEARLY, THE READER, and the “Ghost Sentence” (e.g. “This scene plays a major role in…”)
  • Uses Floating Quotes (quotes that are not tied into your sentence)
  • Not proofread – Read your essay aloud
  • Does not follow MLA formatting (USE OUR TEMPLATE!!!)

Poetry Essay


The thesis hits one of the main pitfalls we’ve covered in class: It’s too superficial/literal, It’s a cliché, It creates a backstory that is not in the poem, or it is written using vague and non-committal language (like: “The poem makes a statement about the significance of a parent-child relationship”)

The thesis makes a statement that, although it isn’t a cliché, is really predictable. This flaw is often a product of selecting a poem that is too simplistic or straightforward.


The biggest offender here is skipping over sections of the poem. Be methodical. Trust that there’s something worth mentioning in pretty much every line of your poem. Don’t cherry-pick.

Another problem is abandoning your points without fully explaining how your logic holds up. Dissect your quotes – don’t just introduce them.

I’m not sure if this belongs with “Interpretation” or with “Evidence” – because it truly hits both territories – but a common error in the poetry essay is when a student creates a thesis, then forces the poem to adhere to that thesis in unnatural or illogical places. There’s a big difference between coming up with a clever interpretation that springs from the poem naturally, and coming up with a forced interpretation that makes logical leaps in order to stay afloat. If your poem isn’t suited to your thesis, change your thesis – don’t strongarm the poem into playing along…

Transitioning is really bumpy from point to point


This one is pretty straightforward. Make sure you have a good range of ways of approaching the poem. See THIS PAGE for a reminder. Go beyond imagery and connotation (despite how important those two elements are…)

Another common mistake in this territory is failing to explain WHY a poet uses a poetic device. The poetry essay isn’t an Easter Egg hunt. Don’t just say what tricks the poet used. Offer WHY the poet used them – that gets you to interpretation, not just identification.

Paraphrases the poem / retells the poem. Don’t do this. Go further.

Essay seems to drift away from the promised argument of the thesis too much.


This territory is too broad to adequately summarize in a bulleted list, but here are some easy ways to lose points that you can avoid:

Use the present tense consistently (except for the rare exceptions).

Avoid the following weak phrases/words: “It is,” “There are,” “These are,” “This is,” “the reader,” very, thing, clearly (or “it is clear”), general “fluff,” and the ghost sentence – any variation of “This moment has a great impact on the story.” (e.g. “This scene causes a significant change…” “This contract makes a huge statement about…” etc etc)

When you quote a book, use quotation marks. Don’t automatically use quotation marks with apostrophes also included. You only do that when your quote contains quotation marks partially within it.

No floating quotes.

No 1st or 2nd person pronouns.

Repetitive sentence structuring.

Not proofread – read your essay out loud when you are done with it. A better suggestion, read it out loud starting at the end, and working backwards sentence by sentence. This will isolate your sentences and help you find ones that don’t make sense.

Use proper MLA formatting. No reason at all to lose these points.