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8 Common language errors authors make in academic writing

Editage Insights | Mar 17, 2015 | 4,205 views
Webinar on language tips for academic writing

On Feb 4, 2015, Editage initiated a series of webinars to help authors prepare for publication. The first in this series was a webinar that highlighted some important language tips to help authors communicate their research effectively.

The trainer discussed 8 language errors that authors commonly make as they draft their manuscripts and shared tips on how such errors can be avoided. Given below is a summary of the errors covered in the webinar.

Error 1: Sentence fragment

A sentence fragment is an incomplete sentence that is punctuated like a complete sentence. They can occur as a result of missing subjects, missing verbs, afterthoughts, words meant only to support another idea and words meant only to describe another idea.

Example: “Removed a cancer-affected tumor weighing 1750 grams from the liver of a 70-year old patient” is a sentence fragment because the subject is missing. Who removed the tumor? Was it the surgeon? In which case, the sentence should be “The surgeon removed…

The first tip to avoid such sentence fragments is: Ensure that your sentence is complete and makes sense on its own.

Error 2: Comma splices

A comma splice occurs when two complete sentences are joined with only a comma.

Example: We included a control group and briefed the participants, the results were still unreliable.

As we are all aware, a comma is not strong enough to hold two complete sentences together, and hence it results in an error commonly known as a comma splice.

Error 3: A run-on sentence

A fused or a run-on sentence occurs when two complete sentences are joined without any punctuation.

Example: We included a control group and briefed the participants the results were still unreliable.

Comma splices and run-on sentences are corrected the same way. You could use one of the following tips:

Tip 1: Use a period to join the two complete sentences.

Tip 2: Use a semi colon if the two complete sentences are closely connected.

Tip 3: Use a comma and one of the FANBOYS (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so) conjunction to connect the two sentences.

Error 4: Faulty modification

This error occurs when the modifier is put in a wrong place.

Example: “The physicians were also trained to detect lung and breast cancer in breath samples from people collected in tubes.”

Here, the placement of the modifier  seems to convey the idea that people, and not the breath samples, were collected in tubes.

Therefore, the modifier “collected in tubes” needs to be placed next to the word that it actually modifies, i.e. breath samples, not people.

The correct way to construct this sentence would be as follows: “The physicians were also trained to detect lung and breast cancer in people by using breath samples collected in tubes.”

Tip: Place the modifier next to the word/phrase that it actually describes.

Error 5: Faulty parallelism

Parallelism means using the same type of words and the same pattern of sentences. Faulty parallelism occurs when a list or a sentence does not use the same types of words to describe similar ideas.

Here’s a tip to avoid making this error: In lists or sentences, use the same types of words to describe similar ideas, i.e. match nouns with nouns, verbs with verbs, and adjectives with adjectives.

Error 6: Sentence shifts

Readers are often confused when sentences begin in one way and end in the other. These are called shifts in sentences and could occur as a result of 1) a shift in tense (Before the surgery, the surgeons examine the report and reviewed all the tests that were performed), 2) a shift in person (Before one prescribes a medicine, they usually recommend a diet therapy), and 3) a shift in number (Each patient was asked to submit their blood sample the next day).

A tip to avoid such sentence shifts is to make sure that sentences begin and end in the same way.

Error 7: Faulty comparison

This error occurs when authors compare two things incorrectly or provide examples that don’t make sense.

Example: “Diagnosis of depression is easier that bipolar disorders.”

In this sentence, the diagnosis is being compared to the disorder, which is incorrect.  

Tip: Whenever you draw a comparison, check if the things you are comparing are of the same type.

Error 8:  Other writing errors

Some other writing errors that were discussed include wordiness, redundancy, using nouns instead of verbs, and the excessive use of the passive voice.

Overall, the hour-long session drew a lot of participation and questions from the audience.

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