When the deadline is looming for your essay, it’s easy to run out of time for editing. But poor spelling, vocabulary choices, and ineffective structure make your work hard to read. It can even cost you crucial marks in assessments. Making your writing readable is worth the effort, giving you a polished essay that will wow.
Let’s look at six common mistakes that make your essay hard to read. We’ll unpick where you’ve gone wrong and exactly what you can do to fix it.
Mistake 1: Forgetting to proofread
I’ve read my essay through and it all looks fine. Anyway, the odd spelling mistake won’t make any difference, will it?
You’ve already read your essay while writing it. It can seem like a waste of time to do it again. However, it’s easy for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors to slip through unchecked. They make your work look sloppy and give a poor impression.
Leave as long as possible between writing and proofreading, ideally a few days but even a few hours will help. Quickly scanning through isn’t good enough. Change the font and size of your text to make it look unfamiliar and read your work aloud. You’ll be amazed at how many mistakes you’ll suddenly spot.
Nothing beats a fresh pair of eyes. Why not swap essays with a friend or rope in a trusted family member? You might feel embarrassed to let someone else read your writing, but it’s helpful for finding the mistakes you might have missed.
It’s never been easier to proofread your work with the tools available online. Use an editing tool like ProWritingAid to help you get the minor details right. It will make all the difference to the overall impression your writing gives.
Mistake 2: Writing without a structure
I knew exactly what I wanted to say, so I didn’t need to make a plan.
This is a common error to make. It leads to confusing essays that are hard to understand. Taking the time to plan and then follow a logical structure improves the overall readability of your work.
Make it simple to follow your essay by organising it into sections using headers. Keep each section focused. What is the main point readers will take from it?
Start with an introduction explaining what you’ll be talking about and finish with a conclusion that recaps the points you’ve made. Often, it’s easier to write these sections last so they reflect the main body of your writing.
Mistake 3: Not being consistent
No one will notice little details like spacing and formatting. It’s the content that counts, not my presentation.
Inconsistencies make your essay harder to read. Differences in font, size, and layout are all classic signs you’ve copied and pasted from websites. You don’t want to give the impression that your work isn’t original.
Most institutions share their preferences for formatting details, including:
– Line spacing
– Use of bullet points or numbered lists
– Size of text
– Font style
– Indenting paragraphs
If you haven’t been instructed about how to format your essay, make sure whatever you do is consistent throughout. If you’re in doubt, look at any example essays you’ve been given or ask your teacher / lecturer for guidance.
Mistake 4: Complicated sentences
Using lots of long sentences makes me sound intelligent and well-informed, right?
If only it was that easy. Although it sounds contradictory, using simple sentences makes your writing more effective. That’s because they’re easy to read and understand.
Break up long, complex sentences into simple ones. There’s no need to fill your writing with semicolons and conjunctions. Keep sentences short and to the point.
One lengthy sentence: Alexander Hamilton was one of the founding fathers of the United States and is best known for founding the financial system as the first Secretary of the Treasury and author of economic policies during George Washington’s administration.
Three shorter sentences: Alexander Hamilton was one of the founding fathers of the United States. He is best known for founding the financial system as the first Secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton was the author of economic policies during George Washington’s administration.
Use a readability check to see how easy it is to read your writing. Even academic essays should be simple to read.
Mistake 5: Using quotations badly
Putting lots of quotations into my essay shows how well-researched I am.
Yes, quotations are important to show wider reading, but you can have too much of a good thing. They should be used effectively rather than stuffed in wherever possible. Only include ones that are relevant. You can show other reading in your source list.
Avoid using long quotations unnecessarily. Your writing will appear stilted and lack flow. Often there will be a specific point within a longer quotation you’ll want to use. Learn how to embed these shorter quotations within sentences to make your writing easy to read. When you use a longer quotation, make it purposeful.
Remember you don’t always have to use a direct quotation if it doesn’t fit with your sentence structure. Paraphrase and just directly quote the section you need. This will make it easier to read
Mistake 6: Poor vocabulary choice
Using lots of complicated words shows how knowledgeable I am on the subject.
There are technical words you’ll want to include in your essay. The problem comes when you add in words you don’t really understand to appear clever. It just doesn’t work. To make your essay readable, keep your language simple and succinct.
Only use words if you really know their meaning and be careful with online thesauruses. You can’t assume all synonyms have exactly the same meaning. Choosing the wrong one can inadvertently change the meaning of an entire paragraph. Don’t use an alternative word suggestion unless you are sure it fits.
Getting readability right
Editing and proofreading are wrongly seen as unimportant. Poorly constructed paragraphs are hard to read. Complicated essays lacking obvious structure are less effective than those with simple sentences and clearly linked paragraphs.
Focusing on the readability of your essay is often overlooked in the rush to meet a submission deadline. Carefully planning how long you will spend on researching, planning, and writing will ensure there’s enough time left for those last checks before you submit. The result is a well-written essay that will get you the top marks you deserve.
Useful samples and examples: