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The Most Common Mistakes Writers Make in their College Essays

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Like filling out a job application, completing a college application requires that you put your best foot forward, and that means not handing in writing that is riddled with grammatical errors.

A college applicant needs to demonstrate his or her knowledge of basic language skills. Because we are all intimately connected to what we write, it is best to ask another person to proofread for mistakes you might well pass over. Proofreading is one of the most important aspects of writing the college essay because it is the final packaging for the essay. An essay shabbily wrapped up and without its bow makes a poor impression--from the start. Proofread your college application not once, not twice, but many times.

Listed below are the most common mistakes writers make.

Run-on Sentences – Run-ons are two sentences "run," or written, together as one. Actually most people can catch run-ons when they read their writing aloud. They hear the pause between two complete thoughts...so, most run-ons are comma splices. Comma splices are two sentences run together with a comma where there should be a period or a semi-colon, which is a glorified period. The problem with comma splices is when the writer reads her work aloud, the comma indicates the necessary pause and it seems okay, but a comma can never take the place of a period or its alter-ego, the semi-colon.

EXAMPLES of run-ons:

Dory ran fast from her house with the bottle of water I stopped her before she fell.

When he managed to come up for air, he breathed with relief, the danger was over.

CORRECTED:

Dory ran fast from her house with the bottle of water. I stopped her before she fell.

OR

Dory ran fast from her house with the bottle of water, but I stopped her before she fell.

OR

Dory ran fast from her house with the bottle of water; I stopped her before she fell.

 

When he managed to come up for air, he breathed with relief. The danger was over.

OR

When he managed to come up for air, he breathed with relief; the danger was over.

Another run-on problem occurs with certain words like then, however, therefore, though, etc. These words seem like conjunctions that join two sentences together into a perfectly correct compound sentence, but the only conjunctions that can join a compound sentence are: and, or, but, nor, for, and yet.

EXAMPLE of a run-on:

The deer perked its ear, then it ran off in the direction of the woods.

CORRECTED:

The deer perked its ear; then it ran off in the direction of the woods.

OR

The deer perked its ear, and then it ran off in the direction of the woods.

OR

The deer perked its ear. Then it ran off in the direction of the woods.

 

Comma Errors – Too many people go around with their comma guns without the safety on. You should only use commas when they are needed, which is only in a couple of instances. Commas are not used for every pause.

Use commas to separate:

  • the two parts of a compound sentence:

Godfrey sat on top of the deck, but he was really bored.

  • items in a series (3 or more items), unless each part of the series is already separated with a conjunction:

John ordered camping equipment, clothing, and food staples for the trip.

OR

John ordered camping equipment and clothing and food for the trip.

  • parts of dates and addresses, including the last unit of each from the rest of the sentence:

John wrote to his friend in Portland, Oregon.

AND

John sent that letter on June 14, 2008, before noon.

  • long introductory phrases from what is normally the beginning of a sentence, i.e., its subject:

Although he had a headache and a queasy feeling, Mark was able to play fullback.

Use commas to set off unnecessary information. Set off means use commas before and after the information except when what it is you are setting off comes either at the beginning or end of a sentence. Unnecessary means extra; to take it out would not change the basic meaning of the sentence.

Set off

  • interrupters like however, I believe, on the other hand, perhaps, for example, etc.:

That house, I believe, was built in 1800.

BUT

I believe in miracles. (I believe can not be removed; it is necessary.)

  • words you use to address someone directly:

Ladies and gentlemen, we hope you enjoy the show.

AND

Did you mean, Alice, you want a dessert?

  • appositives, that is, words that describe--unless it is a one word appositive:

Dr. Hunt, my English professor, will be retiring next year.

BUT

My English professor Dr. Hunt will be retiring next year. (Dr. Hunt is now the appositive and considered one word, as a name.)

  • describing information (clauses and participles) that are not necessary:

Freshmen, who often misbehave, are really too young to drive.

BUT

Freshmen who often misbehave will be expelled. (The information is needed here, or I would think all freshmen should be expelled.)

Vague Pronoun Usage – Lazy writers let a single pronoun stand for whole ideas that precede it. The exact idea which is being referenced should be clear. Words like this, these, those, and it are too vague.

WRONG: Hegel's dialectic is circular and is behind the idea that history repeats itself. It is also a story of progress and balance. We begin with a status quo (thesis), move to its extreme as an opposite and equal reaction (antithesis), and then end up with a modification that is more balanced (synthesis). This can be applied to the concept of revolutions never being entirely successful.

REVISED: Hegel's dialectic is circular and is behind the idea that history repeats itself. Hegel's dialectic concept is also the story of progress and balance. We begin with a status quo (thesis), move to its extreme as an opposite and equal reaction (antithesis), and then end up with a modification that is more balanced (synthesis). An example of this dialectic process can be seen in the pattern of revolution. The existing form of government is not working so a rebellion or a totally opposite way of governing is forced in. However, the new government will have to modify to accommodate the complicated workings of running a state, and so the revolutionaries become those in power, and progress is revealed as a slow and moderate movement.

Pronoun/Antecedent Agreement – Every pronoun has an antecedent, the word which is written before the pronoun for which the pronoun is used in substitution.

John had his teeth out. (John is the antecedent of the pronoun his. His substitutes for John, and gets its meaning from the antecedent.)

Pronouns must agree with the words they stand for, their antecedents. You would not write

John got her teeth out. Her is a feminine pronoun which does not agree with the masculine John. You also would not write:

The bird got their food from the ground. Bird is singular and needs a singular, not a plural, pronoun. So, we say a pronoun must agree with its antecedent in gender and number.

The problem is when a pronoun's antecedent is another pronoun. In this case there is often an error in agreement in number because some pronoun antecedents look plural, but they are singular: everyone, anyone, and someone are singular pronouns. If a pronoun follows one of these words, it must agree and be singular.

WRONG: Everyone gets their hair cut for free today.

RIGHT: Everyone gets his/her hair cut for free today.

 

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