A Guide to My Editorial Comments

Here's a list of some standard abbreviations for editorial comments I use while grading. Other marks and symbols can be found in the back of most ENGL 1101 textbooks and on the attached PDF file from Timothy Corrigan's A Short Guide to Writing About Film, 4th edition.

At the end of your paper, you may see the following letters, used to evaluate all writing:

C        Content is accurate, details are relevant, and examples clearly support arguments.
O        Organization uses clear transitions and establishes a logical, coherent, focused order of arguments.
MGS   Mechanics, Grammar, and Style demonstrate correct and effective punctuation, sentence structure, tone, etc.

The letters in boxes in the left margin throughout your paper correspond to the various sections of your paper (T = Thesis, P/M = Parallels and Motifs, N = Narration, etc.). These help me to gauge the length of each section at a quick glance and also to make sure all sections are included.

Abbreviations and Editing Symbols

A wavy line under or beside text, Circled text, or Red highlighted text: The text that is circled/wavy underlined/red is questionable for some reason. Often it's a question of logic, accuracy, or spelling, but can it be accompanied by one of the other comments as well, usually AWK.

A straight underline under text is just the shorthand note-taking that I use to follow your main points as I read your paper. (Note that my usage differs from Corrigan's underline in the attached PDF file above, which means underline or italcize.)

A check mark means "good," as do words written in the margin like "good," "yes," "nice" (might look like "mice" due to my handwriting), or "excellent."

An asterisk (*) means "see my comment on the previous draft or outline." If there are many asterisks, then there are multiple comments from a previous draft that were not incorporated into this more recent version of the paper. Frequently ignoring this feedback risks losing points on your paper.

"Clarify": your wording and/or argument is unclear and should be more carefully explained.

AWK: awkward phrasing

BR: bad break

CE: comma error (unnecessary comma or misplaced comma)

CS: comma splice

GL: gendered language (rephrase to avoid "man" when you mean "human," etc.)

ITAL/UND: italicize or underline titles (not quotation marks!)

PV: passive voice (rephrase using active voice for clarity & brevity)

RO: run-on or fused sentence

SGWF: Check A Short Guide to Writing About Film for correct phrasing, terminology, etc.

SP: spelling error

SV: subject-verb agreement error

US: Use U.S. instead of British punctuation w/ quotation marks (Incorrect: "film", or "film". Correct: "film," or "film.")

WC: word choice is questionable or incorrect

Writing About Films: Style and Mechanics

How to Cite

Film Title (Director, Year)

The first time that we mention a film in our writing, it should be followed by the director’s name and the year of release in parentheses. Film titles should be either underlined or italicized (whatever you prefer), but never should they be enclosed in quotation marks (some periodicals or emails use quotation marks, but only because neither italics nor underline formatting is available). If you include some of the information in your sentence, then appropriately omit that information from the parentheses.


Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954) presents several motifs that negatively characterize spying.

Alfred Hitchcock explores the underside of neighborly relations in Rear Window (1954).

Character (Actor)

When writing about the narrative of a film, we talk about characters, not actors. It is not Julia Roberts who was married to George Clooney in Ocean’s 11; rather it is Tess (Julia Roberts) who was married to Danny Ocean (George Clooney). The first time that we mention a character’s name, the actor’s name follows in parentheses. Every mention of the character thereafter should not be followed by the parenthetical actor’s name—just the first appearance of the character in the prose.

    Example: Jeff (Jimmy Stewart) suspects that Thorwald (Raymond Burr) has killed his wife (Irene Winston).

Formatting and Grammar Rules to Follow

Format: Assignments should be typed in a standard font (e.g. Times New Roman) in 12 pt. font size. Include no increased font sizes, margins, or large spaces between paragraphs or in headers/footers to fill up a page with only a paragraph written, nor reduced font sizes or margins to crunch ten pages into six. For written assignments that you will submit in hard copy, margins should be 1”, and pages must be numbered. Include your name, date, and course number at the top of your assignment. You work too hard to risk anonymity.

Spell check, but not at the expense of your own better judgment. For example, we know that Charles Kane’s last name begins with a “K” and not a “C.” Do not let spell check convince you otherwise. There is no excuse for misspelling the name of a character, actor, director, or film title.

Please note this frequent spelling error: diegetic is spelled with an “e.” (It is not spelled “diagetic” with an "a".)

Write in complete sentences: subject + verb. Be careful to make your thoughts complete. Fragments can sometimes slip into your prose when we rush to compose assignments. To further avoid fragments, be careful when using commas and semi-colons. A semi-colon can only connect two complete sentences, and it should be used sparingly.


            INCORRECT: Jeff looked out the window but could see nothing; only a vast darkness.
            CORRECT: Jeff looked out the window but could see nothing, only a vast darkness.
            BETTER (for its brevity and clarity): Jeff looked out the window but saw only darkness.

Avoid passive voice. What is the action and, most importantly, who performed for the action? Hold the characters and/or filmmakers accountble for their actions and choices.


            CORRECT (active voice): Mookie throws the garbage can through the window.
            INCORRECT (passive voice): The garbage can is thrown through the window.

Use literary present tense. Even though our very watching of the film means that it was made in the past, we still are experiencing this specific narrative as it is present to us. Although Hitchcock made Rear Window in 1954, we write about this film in the present tense because we are watching it now.


            CORRECT (present tense): The camera pans with the character.
            INCORRECT (past tense): The camera panned with the character.

Avoid run-on sentences. The comma splice (if you see CS on your paper, you are guilty!) is a common cause. A comma cannot join two complete sentences; rather, two complete sentences can be separated by a comma/conjunction, a semi-colon, or a period.  


INCORRECT: Kane whispers “Rosebud,” Thompson seeks its meaning.
CORRECT: Kane whispers “Rosebud,” and Thompson seeks its meaning.
CORRECT: Kane whispers “Rosebud”; Thompson seeks its meaning.
CORRECT: Kane whispers “Rosebud.” Thompson seeks its meaning.

Notice, that the “its” of the second complete sentence refers to “Rosebud.” Whenever you use a pronoun, it refers back to the most immediate noun (agreeing in number and gender) that precedes the pronoun. Be careful with your pronoun usage for precision.

Be careful with agreement of pronouns and number. If you refer to one person, use singular pronouns; if you refer to more than one person, use plural pronouns. The only exception to this is when avoiding gendered language by using "they."

Try to avoid ending sentences with prepositions. Restructure the sentence or add an object of the preposition.

Avoid gendered language that assumes a masculine neutrality. “Man” refers only to men, whereas “humanity” refers to both men and women. “He” refers only to one man and not any person. Replace “he” with “s/he” or “he or she” or "they." If this becomes too wordy for your preference, simply use “one” or rephrase to avoid the pronoun.

Learn your homonyms: they’re/their/there, here/hear, to/too/two, etc.

Its” is possessive, and “it’s” is the contraction for “it is."

Use precise diction and syntax. If you do not know what these words mean, find their definitions in the dictionary or in your ENGL 1101 and 1102 textbooks. It is your responsibility to utilize these and other writing resources toward your increased linguistic accuracy.

Writing Rules to Follow

Simplify and condense your prose to write as densely and succinctly as you can while maintaining clarity. If two sentences express what could be condensed into one, then write just one sentence. Each sentence should express something new or contribute an additional element of support to your argument. These assignments are too short for repeated paraphrases.

Eliminate awkward constructions and vague wording. Note especially that vague, circular sentences like, "This motif was used throughout the movie" actually says nothing; a motif IS in fact a significant repetition over the course of the film, the relative pronoun at the beginning of the sentence loses its referent, and the passive voice eliminates all action from the sentence. It further incorrectly uses past tense instead of literary present tense. Other awkward examples include: "there is a scene that shows," "we see" or "we get," "this is shown," "in the scene where," etc.  Constructions like these needlessly consume valuable space in your very short essay; rephrase to cut them all.

Instead, use the terminology that we learned in Intro to Film and write in active voice. This combination will help you condense your writing more than anything else!

Avoid plot summary. Never summarize or rehash the film’s plot! Instead, take advantage of this opportunity to write original ideas, to dazzle your instructors with your keen perceptions and witty prose, and to impress yourself with your knowledge.

Basic structure of analysis: assert and support. For every claim or argument that you make, you should include the best examples from the film that bolster your idea. Your argument should be something that moves beyond the obvious by incorporating particular nuances of the film toward the formulation of a complex idea. You are responsible for the details of a film. Take notes, re-watch the movie, and do whatever else you need to do--legally--in order to accurately represent the film in your argument. As far as this class is concerned, there are no (well, few) “wrong” arguments or “mis” readings of films; there are, however, unsubstantiated or unsupported arguments, and this will be taken as the equivalent. Step by step, your analysis should clearly explain and illustrate, not simply tell.

Remember, you are composing a film analysis and not a film review. You will offer more praise to the film by appreciating some element of its composition through a careful, well supported argument than you would by simply offering the word “masterpiece.”

(The "Writing About Films: Style and Mechanics" section above was adapted with permission from the syllabi of Dr. Kristi McKim.)