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In this post I would like to share three mistakes that I see very often in my proofreading.

1 Use of the with nouns used in a general sense

Incorrect: The unemployment rose this year in many countries.

Correct: Unemployment rose this year in many countries.

The article is omitted even when the noun is specified more but retains its general sense.

Incorrect: The unemployment in the Czech Republic rose this year.

Correct: Unemployment in the Czech Republic rose this year. (unemployment in this country generally, as observed this year – it could be observed at other times too)

However, if the noun becomes particular in its reference, then the definite article is used:

Correct: The unemployment in the Czech Republic recently has been causing concern. (the phenomenon of unemployment particular to this period)

Sometimes there is a choice, but with a change of meaning:

Correct: Information reported in the newspapers is incorrect. (information appearing in the papers generally)

Correct: The information reported in the newspapers is incorrect. (some particular information about a topic evident from the context)

2 Use of personal pronouns instead of impersonal expressions

In general, for objectivity personal pronouns such as I, my, we and our are avoided in academic English. This is very different than some continental academic writing styles, so it can be difficult to remember. In some fields we is used without signalling any subjectivity, though (not unlike the “impersonal pronoun” one), so it is important to check the convention in your field.

I, we and other personal pronouns can be used in describing the organisation of the text, methodology and research procedures.

Original: In this paper I will argue that… (emphasises author as proponent of this stance – author takes on the challenge of persuading the reader)

Alternative version: This paper will argue that… (moves the emphasis away from the line of argument being fashioned by the author to one that, while tailored to the purposes of the paper, will be persuasive of itself)

3 Incorrect use of uncountable nouns

Incorrect: The author provides many evidences to support this argument.

(There are some academic fields, such as law and archaeology, in which evidence can be used in a countable sense – ‘evidences of indebtedness,’ ‘the site revealed evidences of prehistoric settlement’ – but almost universally evidence is uncountable!)

Correct: The author provides much evidence to support this argument.

Correct: The author provides many sources of evidence to support this argument.

A list of the most common uncountable nouns and a more detailed explanation can be found in this post

See also e.g. Count and Noncount Nouns (Purdue OWL).


Pamela Cotte

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