Top 10 Writing Mistakes to Avoid in High School

Article provided by Sylvan Learning Center

A red pen can make even the most professional writers wince. The preferred weapon of choice for strict editors and stern grammar teachers, red pens deal writers some of their harshest blows. But by using this tip sheet, you can teach your child to steer clear of the top 10 common writing mistakes and avoid an editor's red pen.

1. Fuzzy focus. Most writers often neglect the most important sentence in a term paper--the thesis statement, which forms the writer's key argument. Normally one to two sentences long, the thesis should sum up the term paper's major message.

2. Too much information. Every sentence in the body of the term paper should back up the writer's thesis. Extraneous information only distracts readers from the main points. A strong paper stays on message and refrains from providing information that isn't directly supportive of its thesis.

3. Redundancy. If the writer has done his homework, there won't be any room for repetition, but without preparing the proper research materials, a writer tends to stretch the same ideas over and over. Save your teen's readers from boredom by making sure that each paragraph contains a new idea that modifies the thesis.

4. Lack of structure. Think of a term paper just like a building and the writer as the architect. A term paper needs a beginning, middle, and an end to keep it from falling apart. Writers often will jump into a term paper without mapping out their argument. Help your child outline the term paper from beginning to end, highlighting each section with major arguments and briefly stating the evidence that will be used to justify each statement.

5. Lack of transitional phrases. Young writers often get into trouble when going from one idea to the next. Without transitions, a reader is likely to get lost or disinterested. Each paragraph, like the overall body of the term paper, needs a beginning, middle, and an end. Start off with simple transitional phrases. Sometimes one or two words will adequately signify the term paper's development. Words such as "therefore" and "finally" signal to the reader that the term paper's message is progressing. As a test, reread the paper paragraph by paragraph; if each paragraph makes sense on its own, the paper is probably incorporating good transitions. If not, identify the abrupt transitions and add phrases or sentences to introduce new ideas.

6. Perplexing punctuation. Young writers often avoid using the proper punctuation or overuse it because they don't know the proper rules. But punctuation is like a traffic light for readers--it instructs them when to stop and when to go. To avoid getting bogged down in rules about apostrophes and ellipses, your child should write his first draft, putting all his thoughts down on paper, and then edit the draft using reference books such as The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr., and E. B. White to find the perfect place for punctuation. Through repetitive referencing, your teen will begin to remember the grammar and punctuation rules on his own.

7. Spelling errors. Word processing applications have simplified spell-checking, but even the fanciest of gadgets and gizmos can overlook a misspelled word. Help your child review his final draft, carefully rereading the term paper to ensure it doesn't contain any silly spelling mistakes that will cost serious points.

8. Plagiarism. Young students sometimes don't even realize that they're copying someone else's work. Teach your teen the proper way to credit reference materials used in his term paper so that both authors get their proper due.

9. Complex construction. Young writers, especially those on their way to college, often try to impress their instructors by overwriting--using big words, overwhelming the reader with too much detail or riffing on abstract concepts. Writers should periodically ask themselves throughout the process of writing a draft whether or not the information they're including is necessary for their audience. If not, then get rid of it.

10. No conclusion. Writing a term paper can be a tiresome activity. By the end, many young scribes just give up, leaving readers hanging. Give readers a hand, and end each term paper with a few sentences that recap its major points.  

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