Pitfalls to avoid when writing your dissertation/essay

Part One

Master’s and PhD students are required to write numerous academic papers throughout their study and it is extremely important that these papers are written in the most accurate and academic English to avoid being marked down by their supervisor or assessing professor.

As a professional and specialist dissertation proofreading services provider, we have proofread and edited thousands of academic papers for students, academics and researchers majoring in various subjects in all types of universities across many countries worldwide.

In this article, we will explain the most common pitfalls that we very often come across and fix in academic manuscripts. This should be a handy little guide for all academics and students, especially non-native English speakers, writing an assignment like an essay or a big document like a PhD thesis. 

1-     Get your tense right

Students very often mix up tenses when writing an essay or a dissertation, leading to confusion and lack of clarity, which is 100% undesirable in an academic paper that should ideally be clear throughout.

When you write, you need to ensure you are writing in the right tense. In the introduction of a big document like a thesis:

You can say:

Chapter 2 will include a literature review on the subject.

Chapter 2 includes a literature review on the subject.

But you cannot say:

Chapter 2 included a literature review on the subject

Chapter 2 included a literature review on the subject

Here in these examples the future and present tenses are perfectly ok to use because you are introducing to the reader what they will read in the coming sections etc.

But remember:

If you are writing about the aim of the dissertation or thesis after you have done your experiments and research, then the past tense must be used.

For example, if you have already done your research, you cannot say:

The aim of the study will be to examine the impact of the internet on young people.

The aim of the study is to examine the impact of the internet on young people.

You should say:

The aim of the study was to examine the impact of the internet on young people.

Remember: You are here telling your reader that you have already done the investigation and that the aim you had before doing your investigation and actual research “was” etc etc.

Final point on the use of tenses:

To make it easy for you, if you have not done the research or investigation yet, you should use the future tense, but if you have already done the research and writing up the findings and conclusions or explaining the process of how you did your research, then use the “past tense”. 

2-     Run-on sentences

One of the major problems in academic texts, whether those written by native or non-native English speakers, is what is called “run-on” sentences. A run-on sentence is a sentence that is excessively long and one that creates confusion because it runs on and on, instead of being clear, concise and direct.

Let’s look at an example of a run-on sentence:

* James argued that the influence of the internet on young people was so immense that a multitude of research studies were duly conducted in order to investigate the various and different facets of it and that their role was so crucial in understanding the phenomenon which he described as one of the most intricate in the 20th century.

It would be better and clearer if this sentence was written as follows:

* James argued that the influence of the internet on young people was so immense that a multitude of research studies were duly conducted on it. The studies were aimed at investigating the various and different facets of the internet. James stated that these studies were crucial in understanding the phenomenon which he described as one of the most intricate in the 20th century.

Remember: Always opt for shorter and clear-cut sentences. Avoid run-on and long-winded sentences as they will make your text difficult to understand and digest and will cost you much-needed marks.

3-     Get your prepositions right

Even the most experienced English writers can get confused regarding the use of prepositions. 

In fact, while writing this sentence I was not sure to say “confused by” or “confused with”, so I opted for a safer option “regarding”. Perhaps this is a bit of a clue for you when you write your academic paper: When in doubt, leave out.

If you are not sure which preposition is the correct one, just find a way around it. 

But that does not mean escaping from the use of prepositions in your manuscript. There are definitely very good resources out there that you can consult if you are not sure about the use of prepositions.

Google it (first option), but if you are a fan of hardcopy resources, there are specialist books. Get one and keep it as a reference to go back to when needed.

To be continued

Jason Ryan is an experienced English language editor with over 20 years experience in English-language proofreading and editing services.