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Common Mistakes with College Term Papers

  • By Jason Bacot
  • Published 11/29/2010
  • Writing

Getting your very first college term paper assignment may be a little nerve-racking, but you can succeed if you have a plan for pacing yourself, are willing to ask for help, and if you can avoid these common mistakes. The first mistake many students make is in choosing their topic, they choose one that is to broad. Usually topics for college term papers are quite specific on purpose, so they can be covered adequately in the essay. If you choose too broad of a topic, such as “Roman History,” you won’t be able to cover it, your paper will lack focus, and you will probably receive a poor grade. Instead, choose a topic that is narrow enough to cover adequately, like “Augustus’ Conquer of Northern Hispania.” This shows your reader (your teacher) exactly what to expect when reading your paper. A second common mistake that college students make is trying to get around the length requirements. If your teacher says 1,500 words, don’t try to fudge things by using a bigger font, or making margins larger. Instructors have seen it all before, and besides, if you choose a topic that you’re genuinely interested in, you’ll almost certainly be able to meet the length requirements. In fact, if you choose a topic that is of great personal interest, you may have the opposite problem, and will have to curb your enthusiasm a bit!

A third common mistake students make with their college essays is not developing par

agraphs adequately. In your freshman composition classes, you were probably taught how to develop a paragraph so that it represents a cohesive thought. Paragraphs in a college essay are different from paragraphs in a news story. They are more well-rounded, and do more than quickly lay out a single fact. While a newspaper or magazine paragraph may only have two or three sentences, a paragraph in a college essay may have around seven sentences. The fourth common mistake, closely related to the third, is the tendency to make paragraphs too long. Usually this happens when you are writing and you’re “on a roll” and just don’t stop. Don’t be tempted to throw everything in a paragraph just to show how much you know about your topic. If you discover that you’ve written a paragraph that goes on for a page and a half, go back and look for natural break points in your writing, and try to break it up into two, three, or more paragraphs. This helps greatly in improving the readability of your essay.

If you avoid these common mistakes, and ask for help from your instructor if you need it, you’ll have a much better shot at making a good grade on your college essay. It should go without saying that you must do a thorough proofread and edit on your essay before turning it in. Today it’s easy to correct most spelling and basic grammar mistakes by using the tools built into most word processing programs. Pay attention to the requirements, double check your work and get help when you need it, and you’ll go a long way to getting high marks on your college essay.



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