Anatomy of a Poorly Written Essay

What are the secrets of a well-written essay? What is involved in becoming a better writer? Writing is a skill that can be cultivated, even perfected, through experience and continual learning. Understanding a few basic principles of writing helps build a foundation for becoming a more competent and confident writer.

The first of a 3-part series on writing skills, this infographic highlights 21 areas of concern within the essay. Esteemed English instructors Renee Swensen Nimtz and Beth Calvano analyzed the essay, identified problematic areas commonly made by students, and provided suggestions for improvement.

How to read this infographic:

Each problematic area belongs to a writing principle, and are color-coded as follows:

  Grammar/Style/Mechanics     Format/Plagiarism     Essay Development

Hover your mouse over the highlighted text in the essay below to see the problem with the passage, and suggestions for improvement.

Leadership Theories

      There are a lot of leadership theories. Some of them I  agree with, others I don’t. This paper will discuss the trait approach and the transformational theory .

      The trait approach identifies characteristics and traits of someone who could be a good leader. The trait approach was also studied by Kirkpatrick and Locke (1995). They concluded that leaders possess definite traits, and like Stogdill, they associated effectiveness with the situation and actions of the leader. The leader must set goals, be a role model, and develop a vision (Kirkpatrick & Locke, 1995). Not everyone who has these traits will be leaders but they could be if they wanted to because companies need effective leaders.

      The other leadership approach important today is the transformational theory. This is my favorite theory. A leader who is transformational is inspirational to work with because he or she motivates the employees. This person helps followers think like leaders. The transformational leader works with his or her people, so employees feels part of a team. The followers trust and respect. This is the kind of leadership needed today because so many workers feel as if they are taken advantage of; they hate their jobs. If companies want to keep good workers, they have to have more leaders who are transformational. People don’t put up with being disrespected at work anymore. These two leadership theories are appropriate for the contemporary business world. A  person must possess positive moral characteristics to be a leader, and they must treat workers fairly. Transformational leadership is important in today’s organizations. If a company wants to stay in business, they must take into account the need for effective leaders and hire the right people for the job.


Kirkpatrick, S. & Locke, E. (1995). Leadership: Do traits matter? In J. Wren (Ed.) The leader’s companion: Insights on leadership through the ages (pp. 133-143). New York, NY: The Free Press.       

Word use: Avoid beginning a sentence with “there is” or “there are.”

Word use: “A lot” is a colloquial or “common” expression. Use more formal diction, such as “many.”

Point of view: Typically APA asks that writers avoid first person (I, me, my). Do not use first person in academic writing unless the assignment calls for it. This sentence is also conversational, not academic.

Mechanics. Never use contractions in academic writing. Write out the words (e.g. do not).

Your thesis should offer your perspective of the trait approach and transformational theory so the essay has real purpose.

The introduction should be the first paragraph and be development with more background information. Separate the developmental paragraphs from the introduction.

Passive voice: Rewrite the sentence to make it active.

This sentence should be paraphrased or quoted because it is taken verbatim from another source.

This author has not been referenced or cited previously. Date needed for proper APA citation.

Run-on sentence. Insert comma before “but.”

Avoid bias so you do not lose the purpose of the essay. A more purposeful thesis will help you avoid this.

Subject/verb agreement. “Employees” is plural, so the verb must be singular (“feel”).

Sentence fragment. Who do the followers trust and respect?

Word choice. Replace with “need.”

This is not really part of the paper’s scope and purpose. The sentence is also too casual for academic writing.

The conclusion should be its own paragraph and separate from the developmental paragraphs.

A transition here helps demonstrate that you are offering further insight to the topic.

Word use. Replace with “he or she.”

This appears to be a real purpose to the paper. Perhaps starting with this concept will help you structure the essay from the very beginning and offer more points for development within the paragraphs and the essay as a whole.

No reference for Stogdill.

Second and subsequent lines must be indented for APA citations.