Understanding Marking Symbols

In order to facilitate my marking and to empower you to learn to edit and revise independently, I employ the following symbols or abbreviations in my marking. It is up to you to ensure you understand them. If my explanations below are insufficient, please ask.

(    ) — This usually indicates that a citation is missing.

Δ — Change

49 — Apart from dates, numbers should be written out. If there were sixteen people at a meeting, don’t say there were 16.

Ø — I usually put this mark between paragraphs when you have inserted additional spaces. There are no additional spaces between paragraphs. In an annotated bibliography, you might have an additional space separating the annotations from the citations (an additional space before and after the citation, then), but nothing more.

abstract noun — Abstract nouns can tend to weaken your arguments because they lack something concrete.

art. –Article You have made an error with your article (the, an, a). Either it is missing (this error often results from people speaking Russian or Chinese, as these languages don’t use articles) or you have added an article where there shouldn’t be one (francophone students often make this error)

awk. Awkward–It is difficult to parse meaning from this sentence or phrase. Read the sentence outloud to yourself or to a friend to see if you can hear how it is awkward. Then re-write it so that it is clearer.

Audience — Since your professor and your classmates are your primary audience, you should be well aware of the scope of their knowledge. Be aware, then of providing overly simplistic summaries of texts you know them to have read.

Biographical Detail. Why is it unnecessary to know that Marx lived in a hovel and Lenin had a tumultuous upbringing? Because these details don’t prove arguments.  Personal detail misdirects our point focus and moves essays into the realm of psychoanalysis (at best) or Oprah (at worst). It is unneccesary to iterate where a well-known person studied unless it had a direct impact upon the figure’s theories or ideologies. That Marx studied at a school where Hegel once taught is pertinent because Marx’s theory of Historical Materialism grew out of Hegel’s theory of the Spirit of History.

contr.— Do not use contractions in formal writing.

colloq. Colloquialism/ Slang — As with contractions, slang words are too informal for academic work.

concl. Conclusion Sentence. Don’t end paragraphs with quotations. End them with your own words.

deadwood — Please see the separate page dedicated to this problem

def. — Definition — In most cases, you should provide a definition for the word you’re using as otherwise your meaning will be ambiguous.

DS. — Double Space

etc. Never use this in a formal essay.

frag – Fragment. A fragment is an incomplete sentence because it does not have the two following components–a subject and a finite verb. (Note: a finite verb is a verb that has been limited by the subject, that is by the number or person. Finite verbs are conjugated verbs. Non-finite verbs include gerunds (Having finished X, the lady Y…) and infinitives (To think, to dance, to love). Another reason for something being an incomplete sentence is because it has been introduced by a subordinating adverb such as Also, When, etc.

Fr- French —Either the word choice or the grammatical formation of the sentence is French. This can happen even if you are using English words: “For me, that makes that it’s not well written.” A very common problem arises with the word discuss. In English, we either discuss a topic, or speak about a topic. We never discuss about a topic. This formation comes from French.

ital– Italics– This should be in italics, either because it is another language or because it is the title of a book, album, journal, or any other source MLA typically italicizes.

prep. — Prepositioneither you’ve used the wrong one or its missing altogether.

SIE — State, Introduce, and Elaborate. You must state your argument, introduce your quotation (by incorporating it in your own sentence), and then elaborate what you would like draw out of the quotation.

sp. — Spelling mistake.

specify – Give a concrete example such as a date, a name, a city/country, or make your position more precise by putting an adjective (e.g. red/ Marxist / Lenininst) in front of the noun (e.g. political party)

Placement — The word has been put in the wrong position in the sentence. Adjectives, for example, precede nouns, so ‘car of red,’ is incorrect.


punct. Usually this is due to mis-used semi-colons (;) or overused commas.

red. — Redundant. You have said something that is obvious. A good example: In The Communist Manifesto Marx argues that the ideal society would be a communist one.

ref — Incorrect term to refer to source 

trans — Transition — Usually I’ll write this between paragraphs, but sometimes between sentences.

Easy transitions can be made by repeating a word from the last sentence of one paragraph in the first sentence of the next. More sophisticated transitions can be accomplished through summary:

But while Bernard Shaw pleasantly surprised innumerable cracks and revolutionists by finding quite rational arguments for them, he surprised them unpleasantly also by discovering something else.

Old idea (previous paragraph), New idea.

Or, one paragraph can end with a question, and the next paragraph can start by answering it.

TS. Topic Sentence. Topic Sentences never have quotations. Neither do Conclusion sentences. They must be your own ideas.

unnec. — Unneccesary. Don’t say “Marx’s philosophy, Marxism,” for example.

v.a. — Verb Agreement — Plural subjects go with plural verbs and other basic grammatical rules. Any general word processor will identify such errors.

v.t. — Verb Tense

Passive – Passive Constructions

                The woman was robbed.

Overuse / Incorrect Use of Past Perfect

                                The Communist Manifesto had been written in 1848.

Inconsistent Tenses (past and present used to discuss the same period)

1848 is a period of brief revolution, the CM was written at that time.

Use of Would, when you should use simple past

                               Marx would later find he was famous; Marx was famous.

w.c. — Word Choice. You’ve chosen the wrong word.

word form – You’ve used contradiction (a noun) where you should have used contradictory (an adjective), revolution where it should be revolutionary, nationalist (an adjective) where it should be nationalism (a noun).


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