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College Prep: 7 Common Writing Pitfalls

Writing is one of the best ways to think critically through what you’re learning at the Bible College. Your coursework will have you drafting several essays before you complete your program. Don’t let these common writing pitfalls prevent you from doing well:

  1. Redundancy – Writing the same sentence in five different ways won’t make your point any stronger. Say what you mean with as few (carefully chosen) words as possible. If you’re struggling to meet page requirements, find another quote to elaborate or point to argue. You may learn something valuable! Teachers can spot fluff so don’t try it. (“When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” Proverbs 10:19.)
  2. Wordiness – Using big vocabulary distracts readers from your meaning. If you discovered a smart-sounding word from a thesaurus that you’ve never heard in conversation, it’s probably a good idea not to use it. Try to use words that are specific and enhance your point. You don’t have to sound smart in your writing; you need to be smart in your writing. (“For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” Matthew 12:27.)
  3. Clichés – Look out for common overused phrases, like “this day and age,” “bring to the table,” or “in today’s society.” Clichés are convenient but rarely give good insight to the point you’re trying to prove. Rephrasing a sentence is more effective.
  4. “I write like I talk.” – This may be true for casual writing, like emails, texts, or journal reflections. Yet academic writing requires more thought for structure and flow. An essay must be able to stand on its own with clear communication of the topic or argument. It needs grammar, sentence structure, and formatting so the reader can follow your logic. There must also be a well-defined thesis and strong supporting arguments that transition smoothly. Without structure, your paper will be unconvincing. Slang, fragmented sentences, and poor punctuation aren’t usable. (Insert sad face emoji here.)
  5. “I think that” – Unless the instructor specifically asks for your personal experience and opinion, avoid using personal pronouns in your paper. Because you authored it, we already know it’s your perspective. Academic writing requires you to be more assertive about the facts and insights you’ve synthesized from your research. Using “I feel” or, “I think that” makes your argument seem subjective.
  6. Not Proofreading – You’ve spent so much time writing the essay, taking 5 minutes to read through it for simple mistakes is a small sacrifice to get the grade you deserve. Proofreading can make a major difference in the final product of your paper. If you edit as you go, it’s tempting to think there is no need to do a final read. But you won’t get a feel for your paper as a whole. When you read the entire essay for content—not just simple errors—you may find weak points you didn’t cover well. It’s also a good idea to read out loud so you can hear how the sentence structure flows. Even professional writers proofread and send their manuscripts to editors before publishing (“No one is righteous–not even one” Romans 3:10). It’s an essential component of writing.
  7. “I work better under pressure.” – You may be motivated by pressure, but it’s doubtful you work better. A well-constructed essay is not something you can throw together over a single night of cramming. You may be able to wing your way through it, find a couple of usable quotes, and meet the minimum requirements of the assignment, but it’s doubtful you will get anything out of the exercise besides all-nighter bragging rights and coffee jitters. You will work better—more efficiently, more productively—if you pace yourself. Think through the assignment, and figure out your topic. Find resources that clarify the points for you. If you do a little bit at a time, you’ll be able to problem solve and be ready to actually write when it’s time to write. You’ll understand more, retain more, and find purpose in your education. That’s what you came to college for, right? (Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty” Proverbs 21:5.)