Long abandoned margin codes for commenting on student writing

Soon after I gave students the sheet below, a conversation with Keith Hjortshoj led me to abandon commenting in the margin in favor of what I now call Dialogue around written work. But, as a matter of historical interest, here are the codes I had developed to streamline my commenting in the margin.

Margin codes and abbreviations, Version 7 (June 1995)

By making comments in this form you have to identify and solve the problem. This way you will develop the ability to fix problems before your writing reaches the instructor’s desk.

Code Possible issues to be addressed
Actv More active prose is needed. E.g., shorten sentences; passive -> active voice; “It is,” too much use of verb to be; verb-preposition composites (e.g., getting up, jump up)
Awk Awkward construction of sentence or use of words. Rearrange or rephrase. Streamline.
Agent Agents need to be specified. Make clear to whom you are referring. See also Diff.
Cite Citation is needed or is incomplete.
Connect Connection or transition (between sentences, paragraphs, sections) needed.
Const Construction needs reworking. E.g., rambling or mosaic paragraphs; paragraph subdivision is needed or subdivision should occur in a different place.
Diff Category needs to be differentiated. Claim is too grand and sweeping. E.g., replace “Man,” “we,” “society,” “the earth” by terms specifying the actual agents or place.
Eg Examples needed.
Fact Is this factually correct?   Overstated?   Overgeneralized? More evidence is needed.
Gend Fix gender problem.   Inappropriate or unnecessary use of male pronouns, etc.
Gram Grammatical problem.   E.g., incomplete sentence, dangling participle, lack of verb agreement.
Logic Work on the logic of development. E.g., there are holes in sequence of ideas and propositions, or something inserted out of place. Connections between points are unclear.
Meaning Make meaning clear; explain. You haven’t said what you mean. Cryptic – say more.
Punc Fix punctuation problem.   (Consult Chicago Manual of Style)
Ref Make referent clear.   E.g., when “this” refers to something in the previous paragraph, spell it out.
Specific Vague wording; loose expression. Make your point more precise, specific, or succint.
Sp Fix spelling mistake.   Make a note of it so you don’t repeat it.
Stream Streamline. Reduce repetition, and redundant or unnecessary material.
Think More thinking needed on this issue.
Topic The point here is not clear. Why have you said this here? Is there one topic in this paragraph? Is there a topic sentence? Does this sentence connect with the paragraph’s topic? How does this paragraph contribute to the topic of your essay?

[Words in brackets could easily be omitted.]

Words underlined with a squiggly line could easily be improved upon.

Points linked by a line => Consider them together in any revising you do. If the line has a squiggle in the middle, it indicates that the two points are in tension or apparently contradictory.

^ means something is missing.

X or words circled means this is incorrect


About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, http://bit.ly/NNN2014). On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012, http://bit.ly/TYS2012).

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