that I use on exams and papers
Comments on substance:
A check mark always
means something I liked, something good. It means something good even if
it appears on the same line as something that's an error.
"Good" means that
I like what you wrote, even if the subject under discussion is unpleasant.
For example, I might write "good" next to: "Burkina Faso is riven with
tribal divisions, many of them ending in widespread slaughter." It means
that I approve of your noticing the tribal divisions as a cause of the
slaughter; it doesn't mean I like either the divisions or the slaughter!
means something wrong, something I didn't like.
A squiggly line (~~~~)
means something debatable and/or something partly right. I may or may not
put a further comment indicating the nature of my concern; come talk to
me if you want to understand and/or pursue the issue.
something right but not yet complete. It doesn't mean "half credit".
- except for the one exception below - means something I didn't understand,
something unclear, or else something I believed was incorrect or poor usage.
The exception is where it means, "You should have put a question mark
here instead of a period [or whatever was there originally]."
"Rel?" means "The
relevance of this material to your theme isn't clear." I have found this
to be the most common (and most damaging) error: you confuse your reader,
dilute your point, and waste your limited space. It says to me
that you don't really understand the country or the paper's purpose and that
you're throwing everything at me in hopes that something strikes home. This
is obviously not a good belief for me to have!
"In this passage I've marked, you're on to something good (e.g., in Pol
1500 a cleavage or quarrel) but have let it slip through your fingers. You
didn't notice how important it was and call the reader's attention to it. You
get some credit for simply presenting good information like this, but you could
have gotten far more credit if you had shown me you knew the implications of
what you were saying."
overstate": these are two poles of the same problem,
to wit, incorrectly assessing and stating the degree of certainty. Here
- Wishy-washy: "Lappé
& Collins [World Hunger: Twelve Myths]
tend to imply that hunger is bad." This is wrong, because
there is no question that L&C believe hunger is bad;
their whole book is predicated on it. So where does the "tend
to imply" come from? I read it as saying, "I haven't read
the text enough to say whether the authors think hunger might
have some benefits, so I'll protect myself by saying they only
'tend to imply' this."
Don't overstate: "Lack of literacy
is the biggest problem in the Third World." Well, maybe. And if the
question was, "What is the biggest problem in the Third World?", then this answer
would be appropriate (even if debatable). But if the question only asks
you to discuss literacy, there's no need to say how big a problem it is
(let alone that it's the biggest problem). The only thing you need to say
is that it's a problem. So why would anyone overstate the situation
like that? I read the overstatement as saying, "I have to impress Prof. Chilton
with strong, dramatic statements so he won't notice how awful the rest
of my work is." Don't let this be you!
- "Unnecessary emphasis",
as in the following (exaggerated) example: "Internalized oppression
is a huge, huge, huge problem in the Third World. You're so
right to ask us about this, Prof. Chilton, because it occurs
all the time and has an enormous impact on society." Please
- just answer the question! Unnecessary emphasis tells me that
you don't really have an answer. [And let me say here that
use of the word "huge" is a virtually infallible indicator
that something is going wrong in the student's writing — at
least in my experience. I don't know why this should be, but
it is; some linguist may want to explore this pattern.]
Comments on mechanics:
I will often put a comment at the end of the paper that you haven't
- First, there's the simple problem that your
spelling checker can't tell that you're using the wrong
example, the following sentence would look fine to it: "Their
r too weighs too get they're." ("There are two ways
to get there.") Only
proofreading will reveal that.
- Second, there's the simple
problem that you neglect to look at the text to see that there's
screwed up with the material you wrote. The
lack of proofreading says you didn't care about the paper and
probably didn't do a very good job with other aspects of it.
- "Sp?" means
that you misspelled something. HINT: If you're using a
spelling checker, the two final things you should do with
your paper is spell-check it, then proofread it. If you find
mistakes and/or change the text in any way, do both these
steps again. Remember
that spelling checkers will overlook errors
that match another word.
- "Ref?" means
that it isn't clear what the word ("this", "it", "they", etc.) refers
to. "Nigeria and Togo are on the west coast of Africa. It
got its independence in 1960."
- "Non seq."
(or an arrow drawn from one thing to the next with a question mark
over it): "Non seq." is short for the Latin phrase, "non
sequitur" ( literally, "not in sequence"), meaning, "This
does not follow logically from what you wrote just previously". Non
sequiturs generally appear where you have lumped several ideas
together in the same paragraph, or have made too big a jump from
one sentence to the next. "Non seq."
is a particularly bad comment to get, because when I can't tell what
follows from what, I become convinced that you don't really understand
- The elide mark
looks like a circle with a little loop in its tail (impossible to show
here). It means that the thing in the circle or underlined
should be elided (deleted; removed).
- A diagonal slash ("/")
through a character means that it should be lower case, not upper case.
- "Cap" means
a problem with capitalization, usually that you have not capitalized
something that should be capitalized. I also sometimes put three
underlines under the material that needs to be capitalized;
this is the standard editor's symbol.
- If you rotate the symbol "()"
90º (i.e., on its side), it means close
up the two words. They ought to be joined,
so the space in between them shouldn't be there. Example: the
symbol would be put between "stand" and "point" in the following sentence: "From
Rousseau's stand point, difference still permitted equality." Notice
that your spelling checker will not catch this mistake!
- "Frag." means
that the text next to it is a sentence fragment, i.e., not a complete
sentence. One without a subject and/or verb, like this one.
- "Comma" means
there's a problem with the commas: either you put one in where
it doesn't go, or you failed to put one in where it does. Often
I just circle the problem area and let you figure it out.
- "Parallelism" or
(two parallel lines) means
that you gave different structures to two sentences, or parts of sentences,
that ought to match. This frequently happens with paired words
"either-or" or "not only - but also".
- RIGHT: "He not only went to sleep but also fell off
- WRONG: "He not only went to sleep, but he fell off
his chair too."
- RIGHT: "Rousseau was either a sexist or a fool."
- WRONG: "Rousseau was either a sexist or he would be
considered a fool."
- You can hear parallelism by listening to the same sentence stem
with both endings; both sentences should read well. For
- RIGHT: "He went to sleep" and "He fell off his chair." Note
these are both sensible sentences with similar structure.
- WRONG: "He went to sleep" and "He he fell off his
- RIGHT: "Rousseau was a sexist" and "Rousseau was a
Note these are both sensible sentences with similar structure.
- WRONG: "Rousseau was a sexist" and "Rousseau he would
be considered a fool". Ouch!
- "Paragraph" or "¶"
means that you have switched to a new topic and thus need to start
a new paragraph here. (See the similar comment, "Section",
- "Passive" means
that you used the passive form when the active would be better. The
active voice is always more interesting than (and can usually be made
just as correct as) the passive voice.
- WORSE: "The military have long been a strong force in Nigerian
politics. The First Republic was toppled in a 1966 coup by them." [Here
the subject of the first sentence - the Nigerian military - confusingly
disappears from the second sentence until the very end.]
- BETTER: "The military have long been a strong force in Nigerian
politics. They toppled the First Republic in a 1966 coup." [Here
the subject of the first sentence is also the subject of the
second sentence, so the reader just goes from the first sentence
to the sentence without having to shift gears.]
- "Period" or,
more likely, a circle with a
dot in the center
(usually at the end of a sentence): this means that
you need a period here.
mean either that you used an apostrophe where you shouldn't or that
you failed to put one in where you should.
- "Punc." means
there's some problem with the punctuation (usually other than those
stands for "repetitious". It means that what you're
saying here repeats something you said earlier, or that the phrase
you're using is redundant. An example of redundancy: "The
bad, evil devil Satan tempted me."
- "Run-on"; "c.s.";
"comma splice": these mean that the
text next to it is a run-on sentence or uses a comma instead of a
period between complete sentences, this makes it into one long sentence
instead of the separate sentences it properly is, you can see from
this example what it sounds like, but sometimes the problem isn't
poor punctuation but rather that the sentence jumps from topic to
topic, just like authors do occasionally in short stories, which are
a very difficult form of fiction to write, because you have to compress
so much meaning into so short a space, an art at which the noted author
Don Kurtz is very proficient.
Notice that in the previous, chaotic sentence our use of comma splices
led us to start talking about commas and wind up talking about topics
and then short stories and then Don Kurtz.
- "Section" or "§"
means that you should start a new section at this point.
- "ww" means
that you are using the wrong word. Thus if you said, "Privatization
was the hallmark of Margaret Thatcher's reign", I would mark "reign"
as a wrong word, since it should be "rule" or "government". Monarchs
reign; Prime Ministers rule or govern.
- "mw" stands
for "missing word" - a proofreading problem.
- "number"; "#": these
mean that you have a plural subject with a singular verb, or vice versa. "Fiji's
government [singular subject],
like many other governments, are [plural verb] trying
to solve these problems."
- "tense" means
that the tense of two related verbs are of different tenses: one is
present tense and the other past tense, or one past and one future
tense, etc. "Fiji's government will experience [future
problems, is [present tense] aware of these problems, and analyzed
[past tense] them."
- "spec." or "specif.";
specificity": these all mean that you refer
to something which hasn't yet been defined or specified. "Russia's
government is subject to many problems. Ivanov's samizdat has
opened the door to new disputes." Who or what is Ivanov?
- we haven't been introduced yet. And what is a samizdat?
- how can I understand this sentence until the term has been defined?
- The caret sign ("^" below the
line of text); the inverse caret
sign ("v" above the line of text): these mean
"insert here the stuff shown above, below, or in the margin".
If there's nothing in any of these places, then it means "insert a space".
- The interchange mark
looks like a rounded N
(impossible to show here). It means that two letters (or words,
or phrases, etc.) should be interchanged. For example, I would
use the interchange mark to show that the "t" and "n" should be interchanged
in the last word in this setnence.
this catch-all terms means that the errors were so numerous and intertwined
that I can't specify any single one, and I might not even be
able to understand what you meant.
- "www" means
"For more information, see the relevant material on my web site." If
you aren't sure what that material is or how to find it, ask or email
means "Ignore the correction I made here; I realized later
that I'm wrong." "STET" comes from the Latin word
meaning, "Let it stand."
Particular Chilton gripes:
- "Which" vs. "that":
use "which" for nonrestrictive clauses, "that" for
restrictive clauses. Examples:
- "The hammer, which had fallen on my toe, lay in the dust."
[We're only talking about one hammer, but we are given the
extra information about it that it fell on my toe.]
- "The hammer that had fallen on my toe lay in the dust."
[There were several hammers, but we're
talking about one of them in particular, namely, the one
that fell on my toe.]
- "Which" vs. "who":
people are referred to by "who", not "which".
"Professor Chilton, which had come to class late, hastily handed
out the exam." Sounds dreadful, doesn't it?
- "Due to the fact that":
substitute "Because", which means the same thing and has
only one fifth as many words.
In an effort to be gender-neutral (I assume), people are starting to
use the technically ungrammatical "they" instead of "he" or "she" and to
use "their" instead of "his" or "hers", etc.:
Each individual student [singular]
has their [plural] own assignment.
So the different parts of the sentence are mismatched. "Their" refers to
some plural referent, but the only referent here is "Each individual student".
So as it stands, the sentence is ungrammatical.
There are more grammatical ways of phrasing this while remaining gender-neutral:
Each individual student has h/her
[or "his/her" or "his or her"] own assignment.
As a student, one has one's own assignment.
However, these alternatives aren't perfect either, so I am not picky about how
you address this problem.
Page URL: http://www.d.umn.edu/~schilton/Courses/Marks.html
Chilton [email] | Last
| UMD | Pol
The University of Minnesota is an
equal opportunity educator and employer.
Copyright © 2004-5 Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights