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9 Common Writing Mistakes From NWC Essay Contest Entries

9 Common Writing Mistakes From NWC Essay Contest Entries

Abdullahi’s Note: This is a guest post by Abdullateef Abdul, an award-winning essayist, difference-maker, and progress-enthusiast. He posts insanely useful writing tips with doses of motivation at MyWordCraft.

I was privileged to be a panellist in the just-concluded 2014 Naija Writers’ Coach Essay Contest and was, as a consequence, also privileged to read and assess the contest entries. Without mincing words, the entries were insightful, informative, and enlightening. They were without doubt good reads.

9 Common Writing Mistakes

Photo Credit: djniks via Compfight cc

Nonetheless, I noticed some common but easily-avoidable mistakes in most of the entries. The fact is that most of us make them very frequently in our essay contest entries. I can tell that because I made and in fact still do make some of them.

I am therefore highlighting and publishing them here so that we all (myself inclusive) can learn from them so as to avoid making them and thereby write better and stand even greater chances of having our entries win prizes in contests.

1. Using no introduction

It is highly recommended you start your essay or any write-up at that with an introduction. This is because an introduction gives a background to the essay; it whets the appetite of your readers; it tickles them into reading and loving your essay; importantly in a contest, it robs the judge(s) of salient marks.

Your introduction is your opportunity to make your first impression and if you do it well, it lasts. Surprisingly, many of the entries had no introduction. The advice therefore is this: the next time you are writing an essay, be sure to start with a thrilling introduction.

2. Using no conclusion

Some of the entries, although well-written, had no conclusion. Absence of a conclusion may detract from the force of your message. Therefore, do not toy with your conclusion which is your golden chance to wrap up your piece with a lasting impression.

3. Committing organisation error

This is most evident when an essay lacks internal ordering and flow. Given the topic “National Conference: a Waste, a Progression or What?,” an example of poor organisation will be talking about how good the confab is in first paragraph, then remembering to define the confab in the second paragraph and jumping from that to why we should not have the confab, and then back to justifying it without a conclusion which may even clarify the essayist’s stand. This clearly is an uncoordinated manner of writing.

What I often do when writing to ensure a flow in the work is to insert sub-heading or sub-topics and even smaller sections within those sub-topics. I then look at each segment to see whether they are relevant and (if they are) the most apposite place to have them in the essay. After this, I write.

When I am done writing, I look again at each segment this time to decide whether to leave the sub-headings in the essay or erase them. In most cases, I leave them for the ease of readership. I do these for essays as large as 3000 words as I do for those so short as 100 words.

Another devise I like to use is short paragraphs and sentences as this makes for easy readability and enhances the effectiveness of the writing.

4. Jettisoning clarity

My experience so far shows that it is clarity – of thought, ideas, language, and expression – that determines winners. Most essayists therefore miss the point when they think winning an essay is about ‘blowing big grammar.’ Personally, I avoid as much as possible big-sounding words, and go with the simplest expressions available. This helps to avoid ambiguity whilst enhancing clarity in the work.

5. Making basic grammar mistakes

This took several forms. The most forgivable are typos although they are the easiest to avoid. There were also some outright spelling mistakes especially in relation to words with similar pronunciations. Some examples include spelling ‘order’ as ‘other’ or ‘it’s’ as ‘its’ and vice versa. There were also punctuation errors in some of the entries. For example, some entrants only used a full-stop at the end of a paragraph instead of the end of a sentence; ditto to comma, question mark and other punctuation marks.

Most of these mistakes are characteristic of first draft. Editing your essay properly before submission would minimise them.

6. Digressing outrightly

This is what some experts call begging the question. I’ll call it re-formulating the topic simply because you are writing on an entirely new topic you formulated for yourself and not the one the organisers required you to write on.

This mistake is hard to pardon because you just did not write on the topic. The implication is that no matter how exquisite your writing is, your entry is dead from start if you go off point.

For the NWC contest, participants were to write on what the confab is or means to them. It is totally off-point if throughout your essay, you, as few entries did, tell us about insecurity in the country without showing its nexus to the confab.

7. Making generalisations

‘All politicians are thieves’ and ‘the delegates are part of the people ruining Nigeria’ are quick examples I can recall. The problems with generalisations such as these are immediately obvious to an average reader, let alone a critical reader judging entries.

A variant of this is making assertions or quoting statistics without adducing reasons or referencing any source.

8. Not citing references

Although almost all the entries were brimming with mind-blowing ideas, many failed to reference their sources. As references enrich your work, it is always good to cite them in your work. And the good thing is that they don’t count as part of the essay length.

9. Making tautology

Tautology, strictly speaking, is no grammar error. But it is still unnecessary repetition. That unnecessary repetition then becomes fatal in a brief essay with small word-limit. Popular examples I can recount are ‘Nigeria celebrated 100 years centenary existence’ and ‘in some certain parts.’

Do better. You can

In the long run, we are never above mistakes. But, you should still try to eliminate as much errors as you can and table a good entry for all contests. And then hope that your best beats other entries to the prize.

What common mistakes do you see essay writers make? Please share in the comments

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About Muhammed Abdullahi Tosin

Writer. Difference Maker. Entrepreneur. Author, Your Right To Write & Vertical Writing. Winner, 11 Writing Prizes.


  1. Thank you for writing this, Abdullateef. I didn’t enter for the contest, but I’ve learned something from this piece.

  2. Oreoluwa Ajibulu says:

    That was great, Tosin. I’m sure many people would recognise the truth of these things. They blessed me a lot. Thanks.

  3. Awesome piece. Eye-opener and mind pricking. Am impressed by your expression. A little add up: usage of irrelevant information. This doesn’t show your mastery of the topic or your affluence in the field in question. It only displays your indiscipline to stay on track.

  4. Samuel Edet says:


  5. Wow.. Never would I commit those errors. Thanks for the eye-opener.

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