Taught by A. Potasznik


Common Writing Mistakes (and how to fix them)

From your graders!

Some common mistakes that can result in substantial deductions are…

  1. Not citing sources, or incorrectly citing them. See here.
    1. You should not be including entire article titles in your paper. Hone in on the idea from the article that you want to include, and cite it with (author, year) format.
  2. Long, spaced-out headings. Follow instructions: 2 lines only
  3. Basic capitalization, punctuation, and formatting mistakes. Your university professor should not have to point out to you that the first word in a sentence is capitalized, or that new paragraphs need indentation.
  4. Summarizing instead of analyzing/synthesizing Reference for fix
  5. Lack of argument/thesis
  6. Article too old: Check current suggested article page and read what it says: Reference
  7. Not using consistent verbiage throughout: US vs U.S. Always capitalize proper nouns and acronyms (GPS).
  8. Overusing hyphens and parentheses: these are very easy to misuse, and often provide nothing useful to the paper. Integrate the thoughts into your writing to avoid taking the risk of improper use.
  9. Not properly defining and/or applying class terms: Pretend that the reader has never taken this class before, and has no understanding of what the class terms mean. The reader doesn’t even know what common class terms such as freedom of speech are, or what they mean. Define them so that there is no doubt that the reader understands your meaning. Apply every element of the definition of the term to the topic you are discussing. That means that the words in the application should be the same as the words in the definition.
    1. Example: Utilitarianism-based ethics are justified when despite questionable decisions along the way, the final outcome results in the most good for the highest number of people (Potasznik, Day 2). Waymo can be considered to be applying utilitarianism in the design of its self-driving algorithm since in this case, the driver of the vehicle was sacrificed in order to avoid a larger collision that would have killed a small crowd of pedestrians. The good of the individual, the driver, is sacrificed for the good of the many, the pedestrians in the crowd.
  10. Misusing acronyms: Introduce acronyms with the complete spelling, followed by the acronym in parentheses: “General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)” or “Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)” Reference for fix
  11. Using italics. Just avoid them.
  12. Technology is not the same as computers, AI, drones, or any other highly advanced equipment. Technology is a blanket term, and while those listed items are technology, so are iron, scissors, wheels, and sticks with pointy rocks on the end. Opening with things like “As we implement technology into our daily lives. . .” is very vague, and it is not the fresh new idea that you mean it to be. Be specific. What type of technology are you referring to? Social media technology? Internet technology?
  13. Incorrect usage of conjunctive adverbs: When you use terms such as “on the other hand,” or “however,” make sure that you are actually presenting a contradictory point.
  14. Sweeping generalizations. Phrases like “Everyone loves to use their cell phone these days” or “Technology makes everything more convenient around the world” are not only vague and “fluffy” phrases, they are inaccurate. If you use a phrase like “Technology is the fastest-growing sector in America,” I would expect to see a citation for a recent scientific publication that had those results. 
  15. Mismatched verb forms. “I like to run, skating, and play video games” should be “I like to run, to skate, and to play video games” or “I like running, skating, and playing video games.”
  16. Using demonstrative adjectives without nouns.
    1. Incorrect: I went to the store yesterday. This was difficult for me due to my injury.
    2. Correct: I went to the store yesterday. This outing was difficult for me due to my injury.
  17. Issues with basic subject/verb agreement. There is hundreds of people at this event vs. There are hundreds of people at this event.
  18. Definite vs. indefinite articles: see http://www.butte.edu/departments/cas/tipsheets/grammar/articles.html
  19. Dangling modifiers: see https://www.grammarly.com/blog/how-to-eliminate-dangling-modifiers-from-your-writing/
  20. Run-on sentences: https://academicguides.waldenu.edu/writingcenter/grammar/runonsentences
  21. Sentence fragments: How to detect and avoid.
  22. Bringing up brand new ideas in your conclusion: Conclusions are for emphasizing and tying up points that were already discussed in detail. 
  23. Quotes of 40 words or more a) should be in a block quote, according to APA guidelines and b) are not allowed for this assignment. Large quotes like this are appropriate for research papers that are dozens of pages long; there are no such assignments in this course. Instead of using a long quote, hone in on what is the most important part of it and only use that, then supplement with your own analysis. Alternatively, you can paraphrase (with attribution!) the passage, or rewrite the sentence and only quote certain words (again, with attribution).
  24. Introducing a quote without changing grammar as necessary for it to fit within the paper.
    Wrong: In fact, Facebook protects privacy, such as, “We require applications to respect your privacy” (Facebook Terms, 2020) and critics are not happy.

    RightWhile Facebook states that it “require[s] applications to respect [users’] privacy” (Facebook Terms, 2020), critics have noted that the company doesn’t seem to enforce many bans.
  25. Including minute details simply because they are in the article, regardless of their value to your argument. Do not explain every detail and minor event included in the article. Your job is to read carefully, then identify the ethical element within the article, and provide background information that pertains to it. Specific names, quotes, and comments in your paper should be included only when they are immediately relevant to your ethical analysis.
  26. Syntax: This means that your sentence does not use correct English grammar, spelling, or sentence structure.
    Wrong: Recently, several accidents were happened to the Tesla vehicles and its owner.

    Right: Recently, owners of Tesla vehicles have experienced a wave of automotive accidents.
    Syntax errors are serious because they prevent the reader from understanding your point. In order to fix these errors, you have a few choices: you can go to the writing center and find a tutor (tutors will help you with general techniques but will not proofread), you can ask a friend to look over your paper, or you can find a syntax correction app/service. Some examples of such services include Grammarly or PaperFixers (I do NOT professionally recommend these services, they are just ideas for consideration). Unfortunately, I do not have time to proofread your papers for you.
  27. DO NOT end the paper with a line similar to “I guess we will have to wait and see.” Your paper should have a clear argument with evidence behind it, not speculate on neutral issues. Likewise, do not idly suggest that “the government should do more” or “companies should take steps to ensure…” etc. Be specific. Who should do what, exactly, and why?
  28. Using terms that have not yet been discussed in class. From instructions: The term(s) should be one that has already been explained in class, but is not limited to the previous week’s notes (i.e., you can use “deontological” as a term even for WW6 if you correctly define and apply it).
  29. “Forcing” terms – start with the topic and see what terms apply. Don’t decide on a term and then try to find an article that will fit it. Make sure all elements of the term are directly and fully applicable to your subject.
  30. Accusing an entity of horrible behavior all because they just want money. Many businesses are indeed profit motivated, but that doesn’t mean their product is useless or good for nothing. Consider other points of view.
  31. Citing class terms from a source other than the class slides. As mentioned in class, we focus on very specific elements and contexts for some terms, and they should only be used for the setting in which they were explained.
  32. By the end of the introduction, the reader should have a basic knowledge of the context for the event, as well as a specific indication of what exact event you will be analyzing. Limit your paper to the analysis of the ethical considerations of the event. Don’t go on tangents or devolve into stream of consciousness reactions.Do you need to start at the very beginning?
  33. Citing every, or almost every, sentence in a paragraph (or even the paper). In order to present lots of information from outside sources without repeating citations excessively, you are encouraged to paraphrase and combine bits of information when possible. Paraphrasing still requires in-line citations but it can reduce the number of repeated citations.
  • This page gives very basic writing advice.
  • This page explains the basics of English grammar.
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