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8 Mistakes From Naija Writers’ Coach Essay Contest Entries

8 Mistakes From Naija Writers’ Coach Essay Contest Entries

I’ve had the privilege to sit on the panel of judges in a number of local and national essay contests, and I can confirm there’re a number of mistakes entrants commonly (love to) make.

I discussed these flaws at length in my book, Vertical Writing, and even in an earlier tutorial on this blog.

But it seems no one was listening then, and so most essayists still make the mistakes. I was one of the judges for an essay contest held in a University last month and saw that many of the entrants still made the mistakes.

I’m not on the panel of judges for the 2014 Naija Writers’ Coach Essay Contest, but I’ve had the opportunity to skim all the 160 entries and I was blown away by the quality and variety of the ideas in the entries which show a robust understanding of the topic and the Nigerian socio-economic terrain. Nonetheless, many entrants still made the mistakes below.

So re-visiting these common mistakes is necessary. If you’re making them, it doesn’t mean your entry sucks. It doesn’t mean you’re unintelligent. But it certainly shows you’re not professional enough.

8 Mistakes From Naija Writers’ Coach Essay Contest Entries

Photo Credit: opensourceway via Compfight cc

But, don’t despair. Once you know them, each of them, aside the first one, is so easy to fix it would only take few seconds.

1. Begging the question

This was a real issue in the entries of an essay contest I recently graded. The topic was “The Role of Journalism in Nation Building and Crisis Resolution in Nigeria.”

Without doubt, “role” means “functions” or “responsibilities”. Interestingly, some entries concerned themselves with history of journalism, causes of crises and irrelevant or too many quotes about journalism. Again, many entries swerved into discussing the problems of journalism and journalists.

Yes, journalism has many problems but that wasn’t the focus. If it is asked, “What are the roles of teachers?” would they say some teachers sexually harass students and others are incompetent? Are those their roles?

Or more aptly, fire can and often destroys. But is that its role/function?

So when next you enter an essay contest, watch out for instructive words like “why,” “what,” “effects,” etc., and ensure you adhere to what’s required.

2. Writing too much or too little

The 2014 NWC Essay Contest for instance stated that “Each entry must be between 500 and 700 words” and writing a word more or less disqualifies you (of course the title page, references and footnotes aren’t counted).

3. Disregarding the specified font type

The 2014 NWC Essay Contest stated: “Each entry must be typed in Times New Roman…” Some entrants chose to use another font type entirely or mix the Times New Roman with another font type.

4. Ignoring the specified font size

Again, the NWC Essay Contest stated: “Each entry must be typed in … font size 12…” It needs not be stated that this requirement applies to the title page and references as much as it does to the main content. It may be forgiven if font size 10 is used for the footnotes (because it is conventional to use that size for footnotes) but if I were an entrant, I would use font size 12 for the footnotes too, since there’s an express specification of font size 12.

5. Disregarding the specified line spacing

While the guide stated that “Each entry must be typed in … double line spacing,” some entrants used single line spacing all through while a few others mixed both formats.

6. Giving personal details where prohibited

The guidelines stated: “No personal information like names and emails should appear in the body of the essay.” Some entrants considered this rule unacceptable and went ahead to flout it.

7. Not saving your work as required

The rule was: “Each entry must be titled using the format: ‘Full name NWC 2014’. So an entrant named ‘Yakubu Adisa Okechukwu’ would title his entry as ‘Yakubu Adisa Okechukwu NWC 2014.”

I screwed up here. I meant to write “must be saved” instead of “must be titled.” This misdirection led many entrants into using ‘Full name NWC 2014’ as the title of their essays.

This conflicts with the rule stated in mistake #6 above which prohibited personal details from the essay body.

The fault is mine … so, no entrant was penalized for using ‘Full name NWC 2014’ as the essay title.

8. Maintaining a jagged right margin

This is probably the mistake I hate to see most. I mean, it takes just 2 seconds to justify your work. So why leave it looking uneven and ugly?

Like I said earlier, the contest received 160 entries and over 100 of them are top-notch. But the good isn’t enough when you can give the best.

Improving your game

An essay contest tests not just your intelligence but also your professionalism. And as if the preceding rules weren’t instructive enough, the guidelines further added: “Each of these rules is sacrosanct. Defaulting entries would be disqualified.”

So before you submit your entry for the next essay contest you enter, check for these mistakes and fix them. That would dramatically increase your chance of success.

Here’s to inform you that the announcement of the 2014 Naija Writers’ Coach Essay Competition result has been postponed till next month. Grading the entries judiciously requires more time than we had thought. Thanks for your patience.

Which of these mistakes do you see essay contest entrants make? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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-- Dr. Mahfouz A. Adedimeji | Fulbright scholar | Senior Lecturer, Unilorin | newspaper columnist

About Muhammed Abdullahi Tosin

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


  1. Ayeyemi Taofeek Aswagaawy says:

    Thanks for the review. Its highly refreshing.

  2. Abdulghaniy says:

    So how do the organizers of the NWC Essay Competition plan notifying the winners and also feed backs for those who did not make it this time?
    Remember, we read that the winners would be announced “…sometimes in June.” and June is now getting ready to leave…
    More power to your elbow bro. in fact to your whole body as well. lol

  3. Abdulghaniy says:

    Sorry, didn’t completely read the mail but now I just did. Saw it that Postponed till “Next month…” is the P.S.

  4. Kelvin Odems says:

    Thank you for the corrections though I didn’t write it. .

  5. Wow these errors are very common thanks for bringing them up once more. I tell alot of people about them and am glad that has reached more people. Readers are leaders and writers are king makers. Thumbs up broe.

  6. I love that too. It was my defence against some friends who were trying to belittle our profession by saying “readers are leaders”, then i told them,”writers are king makes”. I am planning to apply for a guest post here. Am happy with this set up.

  7. Salam 2 u Coach Abdullahi: That is indeed an interesting remark plus valuable corrections from my a wonderful coach like you. I perceive scholastic approach in your reviews and tutorials. More grease to your elbow!

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