Clay Lord, Copy Editing, Writing and Proofreading Services

The Most Common Writing Mistakes and How to Fix Them

In the process of editing hundreds of scholarly articles, I have seen the same errors in grammar, usage, syntax, and organization time and time again in my clients’ papers. Eliminating the mistakes found here can advance your manuscript one step closer to publication.

1. Check for Missing References

Check your citations against your references, to catch any sources not present in the References section. In addition, be sure to check your tables and figures and make sure that any references mentioned there are listed under References.

2. Keep Verb Tenses Consistent

The most common mistake in this area is mixing past and present verb tenses in the same paragraph or section (where it will be most evident). For example, if you wrote, “McGowan and Gross (2001) demonstrated that...” [past tense of verb] in one sentence, keep your tenses consistent.

In the next sentence, you should write, “Heydendahl et al. (2014) concluded that...” [past tense of verb], rather than “Heydendahl et al. (2014) conclude that...” [present tense of verb].

By the way, either the past or present tense is correct to use in this context. The important thing is to keep the tenses consistent.

3. Use Third Person throughout Your Paper

Do not include first-person or second-person pronouns such as “I,” “we,” “our” or “your”; instead, use third-person terms such as “the authors” or “the research team”.

4. Check All of Your Numbering

Anywhere you have sequentially numbered certain elements of your paper, review them to check for numbers you may have accidentally repeated or skipped. Examples include section numbering, figure and table numbering, hypothesis numbering, etc. For example, does your paper include tables labeled Table 1 and Table 3, but not Table 2? Are two different figures labeled Figure 4? Is the section that immediately follows Section 2.1 numbered Section 2.2 (correct) or is it incorrectly numbered Section 2.3?

5. Review Past Issues of the Journal for Information on Style

A journal’s style comprises all of the proofreading choices editors use when reviewing the text of articles. Does your target journal use British spellings or American spellings? What sections need to be included in the abstract? Must your manuscript be formatted in a specific way that is unique to this publication? Which style is used for citations and references? In addition to back issues, a great source of style information is the journal’s Author Guidelines; the websites for most publications offer file downloads of their guidelines for prospective authors.

6. Demonstrate Why All Citations and References Used Belong in Your Paper

In short, don’t just mention that a particular study was conducted on a certain topic without providing additional details. Each citation, especially during literature reviews, should clearly show how and why it is relevant and belongs in your paper. As a general rule, it is perfectly fine to keep the description of an article in the literature brief and limit it to one or two sentences, but you should establish its significance and briefly state its findings.