Problems to Avoid in Writing
I have graded a very large number of papers in which I have seen some common
problems. Below are some of the common problems that should be avoided in
writing papers, informational essays, and articles. This information may help
students to learn how to write college essays and papers.
1. Too Many Quotations
Writing papers would be much easier if the papers only needed to be filled with
quotations of the ideas from others. However, this is not the intent of writing
papers. Writing papers should be hard work. They should involve careful
reading, critical thinking, interpretation, integration of information, and organizing
information in a clear and logical manner. It is also not fair that one student
should have to work harder by summarizing and interpreting the ideas of others,
and another student only has to put the ideas of others in quotations. Moreover,
putting information in quotations does not demonstrate that you understand the
information. Thus, for the reasons mentioned above, it is best to avoid too many
quotations. A paper should only have a few quotations, and the quotations
should be brief. Instead of using quotations, it is often better to summarize the
2. Fragmented Papers
A paper should not be just a combination of ideas that are not sufficiently
connected. This kind of paper is fragmented. It is very hard to follow. You
wonder where the paper is headed, and what are the main themes of the paper.
Think of a paper like a jigsaw puzzle. The elements of the paper should all be
connected like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. If the elements of the paper are
integrated in a coherent whole, the reader will find the paper more enjoyable and
meaningful to read. This may be partly true because the reader can see the "big
A paper will be less fragmented with a thesis. First, think of a thesis statement
that reflects the content of the paper. Next, develop some themes that are
elements of the thesis. Finally, find ways to connect the themes of the paper.
The thesis statement will be a view that will be supported by argument and
evidence in the paper. A theme is one part of the thesis that is more specifically
focused than the thesis.
3. Weak Evidence
A paper that uses weak evidence is not very cogent. Case studies and anecdotes
are weak evidence. You cannot make conclusions about cause and effect from
this evidence. You also do not know whether findings from case studies will
generalize to other people or situations. The best type of evidence is research
findings from field experiments involving the random assignment of participants
to conditions. You may be able to make causal conclusions, and your ability to
generalize may be greater.
4. The Conclusion Section Fails to Integrate Ideas
The best papers have a conclusion section that integrates the ideas in the paper.
It is like putting pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together. You can integrate the ideas
by providing general statements about the ideas in the paper. What do the ideas
mean in the bigger picture? What are the general concepts that can be developed
from the themes in the paper? What is the common denominator among the
ideas of the paper? Answers to these questions can be provided in the
5. Not Enough Examples
Some papers are difficult to read because they do not have enough examples.
The ideas are vague and unclear. Effective communication involves connecting
the abstract with the concrete. Providing examples for ideas makes the ideas
clearer and more vivid. You only need one good example for each idea.
6. Insufficient Critical Thinking
No idea or finding can be applied to every situation. Every study has limitations.
Causal conclusions cannot be made from case studies and correlational findings.
The limitations of ideas and findings should be mentioned in a paper or article.
These limitations can be included in the discussion or conclusion section of the
7. Insufficient Original Thinking
A paper should not be mostly quotations or paraphrasing. A paper with a
considerable amount of quotations or paraphrasing may be more difficult to read
because there is little continuity in the style of writing. The reader may not have
a clear idea about the writer's perspective. This may make the paper less
interesting. Also, the paper can be considered lower in quality because it does
not make a significant original contribution to what we know.
Thus, a primary attribute of a very good paper is that it reflects the thinking of
the writer to a significant degree. This original thinking may be reflected in the
writing style, the thesis statement, the manner in which the ideas are organized,
and the conclusions in the paper.