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Syllabus, ENG 101
Do's and Don'ts

The thesis of an essay is a very important statement. The following are some of the problems you should avoid in an effort to write the strongest statement possible.

1. Don't write a personal letter to your instructor.
FOR EXAMPLE: This assignment at first confused me, but after several cups of coffee, I began to get an idea. I remembered something that you said last week about certain kinds of literature depending on formal patterns, and I think I've come up with an interesting notion about the two stories we just read. See what you think.

2. Don't make formal announcement of what you are going to do.
FOR EXAMPLE: In this paper I am going to prove that, far from being ignored, the elderly have received special privileges for decades.

3. Don't Shilly-shally.
FOR EXAMPLE: In my opinion, the Industrial Revolution was a major chapter in the history of civilization.

4. Avoid a speechmaking tone.
FOR EXAMPLE: In conclusion, let me say that... Or, With your permission, I'd like to make a new observations on that point.

5. Don't bluster.
FOR EXMAPLE: Anyone but an idiot can see that Hughes's poem protests against the treatment of African Americans.

6. Be careful about using "you" as an indefinite pronoun.
FOR EXAMPLE: Even though you are a drug addict, you are not necessarily an evil person. Or, Your constant arguments with your parents are part of the process of growing up.

7. Define unfamiliar terms; avoid jargon or special language of particular professions and activities.

Click below for a link to an exercise to practice identifying these types of problems.

link to exercise


After completing the exercise linked above, you should have a good feeling for the common mistakes beginning writers make in their essays and with their thesis statements.

Remember, if these seem easy to identify in this academic exercise, or even obvious when you look at the examples on this page, the real test is whether you can identify (and fix) the problems in your own writing. Always read and proofread carefully.


One of the best ways to "catch" these mistakes is to have a peer respond to your work. Either have someone else read your work, or read your essay out loud to a person you trust to listen carefully and respond to your writing.