Common Mistakes in Academic Writing

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Common Mistakes in Academic Writing

During one to one tutorials at Academic Writing Center, it was observed that some mistakes were common in most of the texts.These mistakes are going to be presented as different chapters.

Chapter I

The Use of Passive Voice

The passive voice is one of the most frequently used structures in academic writing. It is believed that the passive voice is more suitable to be used instead of the active voice, because academic writing requires more formal sentence structures. It is true that formal structure is a must in academic texts; nevertheless, the overuse of passive sentences in writing is something to be avoided.

The passive voice is used when the doer of the action is unknown. Also, in some situations, there is not a specific subject, so it is more proper to choose passive voice. You may also emphasise the action instead of the subject, which requires the use of passive voice.

The examples below are some problematic sentences related to the use of passive voice. The sentences are from the students’ academic papers, but they have been changed for ethical concerns.

Example 1:

“It has been learnt theoretical parts of art.”

This example shows how the student uses the passive structure wrongly. The use of “it” and “theoretical parts of art” in the same sentence cause an ungrammatical sentence. The correct sentence should be as follows:

“Theoretical parts of art have been learnt.”

Example 2:

“She has transferred from this building to the new one.”

In this sentence, the use of “been” is missing, which is one of the most frequent mistakes. The verb “transfer” needs an object after itself in active voice. The correct sentence is presented below:

“She has been transferred from this building to the new one.”

Example 3:

“The solution was prepared by a glass pipe.”

This problematic sentence is a good example of the wrong usage of preposition in passive structure. “By” is considered as the preposition of the passive voice. However, if we want to show instrument as in example 3, we should use “with”. “Glass pipe” is not the doer of the action, it is a means to the preparation of the solution.

“The solution was prepared with a glass pipe.”

Example 4:

“The project can be carry out.”

This sentence indicates the importance of the use of past participle form of the verb in the question. If it is not in that form, the sentence in the passive voice is not complete. The correct version is as follows:

“The project can be carried out.”

Example 5:

“The approaches on the value of teamwork could be sum up in three different titles.”

The example above is similar to the previous one in that the verb is in the base form, which makes the passive structure incomplete.

“The approaches on the value of teamwork could be summed up in three different titles.”

Example 6:

“Even if the perception of poverty could change by the cultural patterns,…”

The student does not use the helping verb and the past participle form of the verb, which means the passive structure.

“Even if the perception of poverty could be changed by the cultural patterns,…”

Example 7:

“Table 2.1 was shown different learning styles.”

Like example 1, this sentence shows the wrong usage of passive structure. The object in the sentence comes after the verb instead of the subject position. The correct version of the sentence is presented below:

“Different learning styles were shown in Table 2.1.”

Example 8:

“Another table is 3.4, is exhibited the effect of malnutrition on children.”

This sentence is very similar to the previous one in terms of the use of object in the sentence.

“The effect of malnutrition on children is exhibited in another table, Table 3.4.”
Example 9:

“Literary studies have been covering.”

This example points out the wrong usage of passive voice in present perfect tense. Here, the student uses the present perfect progressive instead of passive voice in present perfect tense. The Present Perfect Continuous Tense cannot be passivized as a rule. The correct sentence is as follows:

“Literary studies have been covered.”

The examples above show how the rules of passive voice are violated. The wrong usage of passive structure causes ungrammatical sentences in theses, articles and any type of academic texts. In addition, there are some verbs which cannot be passivized. Such verbs are called “intransitive”, which means the verb does not take an object. If the writer is unaware of this, he can make mistakes using such verbs. Here is a list of some intransitive verbs:
Happen Come Sleep Appear Emerge

Occur Go Resemble Disappear Rise

Consist of Collapse Depend Die Live


To sum up,

  1. Use Passive Voice when necessary!

  2. If the action is more important, use Passive Voice!

  3. If the doer is more important, do not use Passive Voice!

  4. Some verbs cannot be passivized, learn them!

S.Bezircilioğlu, 2012©

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