Sunday, August 31, 2014

How to markup an essay

Q: What do these editing colors and symbols mean?
A: I often use the following highlight colors to indicate certain writing issues

ORANGE = wdy = wordy, verbose

YELLOW = grammar issues, including misplaced modifiers, usage, spelling, articles, agreement, capitalization

GREEN = vague, illogical, imprecise or misleading
  • Vague: add prepositional phrases and details to fix the context and define the issues 
  • va = vague: A paragraph, sentence, clause, phrase, or word is vague, nonspecific, imprecise, or misleading. The most common error is failure to include short prepositional phrases that tie things down. Vague (depending on context): "The court refused to decide the issue." Precise: "The court refused to decide the issue of proximate cause." 
  • Solution: show, don't tell (
  • This... what? Professor John Cochrane at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business says, you should clothe the naked “this.” “This” should always have something following it. “This example shows that....” is fine. More generally, this rule helps you to avoid an unclear antecedent to the “this.” Often there are three or more things in recent memory that “this” could point to.

BLUE = logic or transition issues
  • not believable, not credible (esp. in recommendation letters)
  • The greatest mistake that I see applicants make when drafting bullet points for letters of recommendation: they cross the credibility line by referencing information the recommender is unlikely to know. Recommenders can only mention what you said and did, not what you thought and felt. How can a recommender know your inner motivations unless you told him? And even if you told him, why would he feel the need to mention such information in a letter of recommendation? Bottom line: He should discuss what you said (add real dialogue) and did (actions and results) instead of what you thought or felt. 
  • trans = transition problem: A transition between paragraphs, arguments, or sections of the writing is nonexistent, abrupt, weak, lame or misleading. Think about the logical relationship between the parts that need connecting and try to write a smooth and helpful transition. Good transitions are based upon ideas and their logical relationship, not just clever or stock phrases. 
  • Please read these tips to improve your transitions  

PINK = awkward or passive
  • awkward phrasing, although not grammatically incorrect. Most common: words with slightly inapposite meaning, too many words to express a particular concept, or awkward (but not technically incorrect) grammatical construction 
  • pv = passive voice: Passive constructions ("the case was decided" or "it was determined that...") are grammatically correct but weak and often confusing. They are useful only when the subject of the verb is unknown or indefinite or the writer wishes to conceal the subject.
  • Otherwise, passive voice—particularly if used repeatedly—is a sign of wooden and heavy writing. 
  • Solution: There are five reasons to use passive voice. Please learn them!

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