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Essay Grading Symbols

List of Common Comments and their Abbreviations

Below is a list of abbreviations that I use when grading papers or essay exams. Often, to draw your attention to a problem, I will underline or circle the sentence or part of a sentence that seems to be at the heart of the problem. To understand what the trouble is you should:

1.              look at what is circled or underlined

2.              look at the margins to see what my comment is

3.              check the original material or your notes to see if you understand the issue now

4.              talk to me about what remains unclear


Comment and Explanation


Good point–on target! Keep this up!


I can’t understand the meaning of the sentence or phrase.


This is an awkward construction.


Define what this word or phrase means.


Elaborate. This needs support. Why have you said this? Why or how is what you have written of use in your argument?


Follow instructions. You have not followed the instructions given on the assignment sheet.


Sentence Fragment. This is not a sentence. Essays must be written in complete sentences.


Irrelevant to the point of the paragraph or the essay.


Logic is unclear or impossible. (E.g. "The man kissed the baby with a beard.")


Not grammatical.


Non-Standard English: The English, she not written this way.


Proof read! By this point in your essay there have simply been too many mechanical errors to justify your receiving as high a grade as you could.


Is this a quotation? Where are the quotation marks? (Avoid plagiarism!) It may also mean: Who said this?


How do you get from the idea in the former sentence (or phrase) to that of the latter? What is their relationship? The transition is unclear.


Repetition: you have already said this; move on


Avoid slang.

sp. or circle around word/punctuation

Correct the spelling/punctuation of this word.


Too brief. You are on track but you have left out steps or important details.


Too General. What you’ve said makes sense, but you need to explain more–facts need to be more specific, or supporting reasons need to be given.


This is the wrong word for the context; get a dictionary and look up the word you have used to find out why it is the wrong choice


Warm Up. What has been said doesn’t advance your answer. (Example: "Brock is a philosopher who writes about euthanasia.")


Incorrect. Either facts or argument are in error. Often followed by a specific reason.


Quotation error or error in paraphrase. Check the original.

 (not equals)

Not equivalent. These two things are not the same.

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Last updated Dec 13, 2010 06:24:AM

Last updated: June 1, 2017

An overview of commonly used proofreading symbols

If you've ever had a hard copy of a document proofread, chances are that you're familiar with the strange typology of professional proofreaders. Your returned document is so full of symbols (hieroglyphics? squiggles? cuneiform script?!) that you think it has been translated into Martian!

These strange markings are the "footprint" that your proofreader has left on the document to highlight where changes need to be made to the text. The proofreader uses a series of symbols and abbreviations to suggest changes, correct spelling errors, improve punctuation, and generally enhance the quality and readability of a hard copy document.

Locating proofreading marks

In hard copy proofreading, corrections typically appear in the left or right margins beside the line containing the error. A mark is also placed in the text to indicate where the correction needs to be made. A caret (^) indicates an addition, and a line through the text indicates a deletion or a replacement. Proofreading marks are traditionally written in red ink for better visibility.

Frequently used proofreading marks

Delete: , or

Delete a letter: a diagonal line through the letter with the delete mark in the margin

Delete a word: a straight line through the word with the delete mark in the margin


Space needed:

Close up a space:

Delete letters and close up a word:

New paragraph:

Period or full stop:

Semicolon: or

Colon:  or 

Insert or superscript:

Insert or subscript:

Insert comma:

Insert apostrophe or single quotation mark:

Insert double quotation marks:

Insert en dash: , , or

Insert em dash: , , or 

Centered: , or 


Frequently used abbreviations

Let it stand:





Roman typeface:

Bold typeface:

Faulty diction: DICT

Awkwardly expressed or constructed: AWK

Wordy, too verbose: WDY

Wrong word used (e.g. to/too): WW

Eliminate the need for proofreading marks

Deciphering a proofreader's suggested changes used to take hours; fortunately, it doesn't have to any more. Submit your document to any of our proofreading services today for a speedy, easy-to-use document review that makes use of Tracked Changes instead.

Image source: Kay Ransom/

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