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What am I doing wrong?

We all make mistakes, especially in school!  But, fortunately, some mistakes are avoidable if you take the time to pay attention.  On this page I list some of my pet peeves from student papers and try to explain why they weaken your writing and how you can avoid or fix them in the future.

Weak Openings

1. Unnecessary Definitions

"Webster's Dictionary defines __________ as . . . "  Have you ever used this sentence?  Maybe you were even taught to do it by one of your previous English teachers.  It's not against the rules.  You won't get an F if you do it.  But, that said, it's a trick that a lot of students use in their introductions unnecessarily.  Do you really need to define what "love" is?  Or what a "friend" is?  Ask yourself if your definition is giving the reader information he or she didn't have previously, or if it's just stating the obvious.

2. Let's Get This Show on the Road

It's very important that your introduction prepare the reader for the essay that's to come.  You should have a clear thesis that identifies the essay's point of view and argument.  But, you don't have to give detailed explanations of what you're going to do.  For example:

   "In this essay I will begin by describing the history of warfare, followed by a comparison between the American Army's tactics in World War I with those in World War II.  Then I will show how the World War II tactics indicate an advance in cruel and inhuman behavior supported by technological advances.  Finally I will use the previous evidence to prove that people were more humane during World War I."

Instead of taking all the time to tell your reader what you're going to do, why not just do it?  Make your thesis statement and get down to the business of your essay.

Vague Language

1. When?!!!

Many students use unclear words such as "back then," "olden days," and "nowadays" to indicate the time period they are referring to.  This is just too vague.  Think about it: are the "olden days" the Middle Ages?  The early 1900's?  Any time before you were born?  Likewise, does "nowadays" mean the year 2012?  The 21st century?  The post-Industrial age?  How can your reader possibly know when exactly you are referring to?  Be specific.  Give dates when you can or at least be explanatory in your description.  For example: "In the decade following World War II," "Kids who were born after the 1990's were raised differently," or "Prior to the invention of the personal computer."

2. What else?

Ever use the word "etc."?  Do you even know what it means?  "Etc." is an abbreviation for the latin words "et cetera" which mean "and other things" or "and so on."  So, if you write "and etc." you are writing "and and other things."  Aside from the repetition, this word is problematic, because it doesn't really teach the reader anything new.  If you have many examples that you want to give to prove your point, then give them and be specific.  Consider these two examples:

   Many people have pets like dogs, cats, etc.

   Many people have pets like dogs, cats, birds, and goldfish.

The second sentence is much more specific and detailed.  If you can't think of a third example, then just give two.  That's okay!

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