WEX Editors on Common Errors Seen in Dissertations

We’ve asked the WEX editors about the common APA errors they’re seeing in dissertations and have created this list in the hopes writers might have an advantage in self-editing their dissertations.[1]  Here we go:

Table of Contents:

  • Inconsistent wording from the heading in the text
  • Incorrect representation of heading levels
  • Incorrect pagination and/or margins


  • Incorrect heading levels and/or appropriate margins
  • Headings from the text must have identical wording in the Table of Contents
  • Having an unnecessary subheading (only one subheading at a given hierarchical level, which means no subheading is warranted)
  • Applying Word headings styles to entire paragraphs or empty space, which causes non-heading text to show up in automated Table of Contents

Line Edits:

  • Misspellings due to homophones (it’s vs its; they’re vs their; too vs to; led vs lead; etc.)
  • Using inconsistent or incorrect verb tense when describing published research
    • Using future tense in referring to dissertation research (This study will show . . .)
  • Using the slash (/) incorrectly when a conjunction should be used (dogs/cats instead of dogs and cats). Or using a slash between two unrelated nouns (“the council/Department of Health”)


  • Correct placement of end punctuation:
      • In-text citation: “quote” (Mariposa, 2019). (Period follows citation)
      • The end of a blocked quote. (Mariposa, 2019) (Period ends quote; no period after citation)
  • Single-spacing blocked quotes (according to certain program handbooks)
  • Adding an incorrect comma after the first author’s name in a citation using et al.: (Should be Vichy et al.; not Vichy, et al.)
  • Wrong order of multiple citations in a single parenthesis; they should be alphabetized according to first author & chronology of each resource. 
  • Using “&” instead of “and” when integrating multiple authors of a source into a sentence (outside of a parenthetical in-text citation)
  • Making et al. a possessive: Although people might refer to this in their speech, it is technically incorrect to add an apostrophe + s to et al. The possessive belongs to the name preceding et al. For example, Browning’s et al. (2011) findings establish…  Or use the preferred: Findings of Browning et al. (2011) establish …


  • Misspelling authors’ names or journal titles
  • Capitalizing all words in a title or neglecting to capitalize the word following a colon or dash
  • Omitting the ampersand (&) with a work written by 2+ authors
  • Including typos in URLs
  • Failing to include DOI numbers in references or failing to use consistent format for DOI numbers
  • Failing to single space the reference and include an extra line between entries
  • Incorrectly italicizing punctuation in the References or Keywords sections (punctuation that is not part of a book or journal title)

Fussy Details:

  • Not following program handbook for pagination of front pages
  • Two spaces after punctuation
  • Abstract should have no indent
  • Right side hyphenation is not allowed
  • Not having appropriate headings for Appendices=
  • Using incorrect italicization in table headings and figure captions
  • Inconsistent spaces between words and/or sentences
  • Not using en or em dashes properly (See WEX blog, “Dash Away!”)
  • Proper use of spelling out numbers and percent vs. 10%, except for the beginning of sentences.
  • Overuse of e.g. and/or i.e. (these should not be used more than a couple of times per page)
  • No back-to-back parentheses
  • Use the first person My rather than This researcher’s
  • Incorrect punctuation when using et al., e.g., and i.e. and neglecting to add the comma after the period (et al.,)

[1] Caveat: Attend always to your program handbook. This “general” list of format errors combines APA with some AU Dissertation Handbooks.

Though it’s always best to hire a professional editor, here at WEX we hope to empower academic writers to become masters of their craft!