Elements of Writing: How to Avoid Common Mistakes in Style

Mastering the elements of writing involves avoiding common mistakes in style. While all aspects of writing affect the quality of your paper, style is important because it is largely a matter of tone. Tone comes from what others read into the words and sentences you use. Avoid these common stylistic mistakes to be an effective essay writer:

  • Sentences too short or too long in length (varying sentence length)
  • Sentences using passive voice
  • Sentences beginning with coordinating conjunctions
  • Phrases and words that are inappropriate
  • Words that are repeated too often

Mistake in style #1: Sentences too short or too long in length

The easiest and most effective way to convey your thoughts is to find a balance in sentence length. Aim to write some simple sentences, some compound sentence and some complex sentences. Avoid one- or two-word sentences, and break exceptionally long sentences into two. By using a combination of short and long sentences, you avoid this common mistake in style.

Mistake in style #2: Sentences using the passive voice

Passive voice is not grammatically incorrect, and in some cases, such as scientific writing, it allows you to write objectively about research or experiments. For academic writing, the active voice is generally used because it keeps your writing more focused on the subject rather than the object. The occasional passive construction is necessary when discussing the past or using it for effect. However, stay in the active voice as much as possible when it does not involve discussing research or experiments.

When it comes to elements of writing, consider your readers as a key component. While the use of the passive voice allows your writing to stay more impersonal and objective, it can also be more difficult to read. On the other hand, active sentences are easier to understand and are more direct. Using both voices appropriately creates an effective piece of writing that varies in pace.

Mistake in style #3: Sentences beginning with coordinating conjunctions

A common mistake in style is beginning a sentence using a coordinating conjunction. While it is not technically incorrect to do so, it is frowned upon for most academic writing. Look at assignment instructions to see if your assignment has any special rules regarding this. If you do begin a sentence with a coordinating conjunction, the comma is not used after it unless you want to create a pause for a stylistic effect. You should only begin a sentence with a coordinating conjunction for stylistic effect in most academic essays.

Mistake in style #4: Phrases and words that are inappropriate

When writing an academic essay, strike a balance between writing too formally or informally. For academic essays, avoid clichés, and opt to use more formal language in writing. Slang should only appear in dialogue or a specific usage for a stylistic effect. Consider this example written using a cliché:

Thousands of fans were devastated when Michael Jackson kicked the bucket.

The same idea is conveyed by replacing the cliché “kicked the bucket” with a more appropriate choice of words. Consider this suggested alternative:

Thousands of Michael Jackson fans were devastated when he passed away.

Mistake in style #5: Words that are repeated too often

Word repetition is a common mistake in style that occurs when you are trying to emphasize a particular idea. Overusing words makes writing tiring, and it is tedious to read. While thinking of different words is sometimes challenging when writing about the same topic, you can grab a thesaurus. This is a great tool to vary your writing and make it more interesting. Consider both the context and meaning of any words you select from a thesaurus.

The style of your writing matters because the choice of your words and structure of your sentences achieve a certain effect. When you pay attention to style and other elements, you write a more powerful essay.