Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Writers' Lab: List of Common Mistakes

As I was proofreading my thesis, I made a list of the most common errors that I encountered in my own writing.

Creating a list of your own errors gives you some insights in your writing, areas of improvement and can help you spend some more time and effort on eliminating these errors.

I'm not sure if these are typical mistakes for a native Dutch speaker, or if most writers run into them - and I'd appreciate if you'd give your opinions on that.

For those of you who are proofreading your thesis or a research paper, you might like to pay a little additional attention to the following points:

1. Tenses

I need give my writings an additional round of proofreading, as I tend to shift seamlessly from past to present tense.
Even though I'm still confused as to whether I should describe my experiments in present or past tense, I now at least try to stick to a tense of my choice.

2. Singular versus Plural

When the subject of a sentence gets a little long (as often in academic writing), I lose focus of the subject and often make mistakes against the proper use of singular or plural.
Upon proofreading, I look for the verb and subject and check if they correspond in the proper way.

3. Typos

The typical ones: "strenght", as well as some more obscure typos that make it barely impossible to figure out what I actually meant. If the meaning of the typo is completely unknown, it might help to check which letters on the keyboard are close to the ones in the weird word; you might find out in that way what you actually wanted to type.

4. Prepositions

An error more common amongst non-native writers, I would think, the correct use of the prepositions is a difficult task for me. When in doubt, I simply look it up in a dictionary or online.

What are your most common errors in writing? Are these errors familiar to you, or are these typical for Dutch native speakers?


  1. I would affirm first three mistakes for my master's thesis. Using preposition is generally not a problem for me. Instead I would add one more point (at least for me) that is increased use of passive voice. I have set my word to check to highlight use of passive voice. And when I re check them 4 in 10 times I can rewrite the sentence without the use of passive voice.
    Regarding point 1, that is to describe your work in past or present tense, i think this not a problem of being non-native. It may also happen if would like to write in your own language. I assume most new researchers encounter this. And this would settle when they become more mature. Although you are PhD (or soon to be) and I am looking for PhD, but I would like to say that we have to be consistent with either use of past tense or present tense. Use of both in same writing one that does not creates good effect on reader.
    Good Luck with your writing.
    Ahmed B

  2. I found that I was changing the tense in my PhD thesis regularly also and I am a native English-speaker.
    The passive voice was also an issue for me (I would love to know how A. Bilal got Word to check for this).

  3. Thanks - passive versus active is indeed another issue, and if you can expand on how you used Word to check that for you, I'd love to read about it (maybe you want to turn that into a contribution for the Writers' Lab as a guest blogger?)

  4. Hi Eva
    Thanks for your offer for writing as guest blogger. I shall be happy to write about it. But can you please tell how can write as guest blogger. My email is engr.ahmedbilal@gmail.com just in case you want to send me email.


  5. Hi Eva, nice post! You might want to consider using a collocations dictionary to help you with the prepositions--it's a great help for non-native speakers trying to figure out which words to put together.

    Here are some options (including the collocations dictionary):

    Good luck!