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. See the Department of Language and Literature's Writing Guidelines for full explanations of the three main criteria 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 (I = Implicit Meaning, 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 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.)

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."

"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 contribute to and comprise the narrative.

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: L.B. Jeffries (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 something comparable to Times New Roman 12 pt. font (use your judgment). Please don’t insult our intelligence with enormous fonts that surprisingly fill up a page with only a paragraph written. Neither strive to crunch ten pages worth of analysis into five with only a trick of font reduction or margin play. 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 Charlie Kane’s last name begins with a “K” and not a “C.” Do not let spell check convince you otherwise. For each screening, we will distribute a handout on which all primary characters/actors are listed, and you can find all character/actor names at www.IMDB.com. Be sure to consult these resources. 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 during the wee hours of the morning as you frantically 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.


            CORRECT (active voice): “She threw the ball.”
            INCORRECT (passive voice): “A ball was thrown by her.”

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 2004 in the present tense because it is immediate to us.


            CORRECT: The camera pans with the character.
            INCORRECT: 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: Charlie Kane whispers “Rosebud,” Thompson seeks its meaning.
CORRECT: Charlie Kane whispers “Rosebud,” and Thompson seeks its meaning.
CORRECT: Charlie Kane whispers “Rosebud”; Thompson seeks its meaning.
CORRECT: Charlie 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.: these are mistakes we see with disconcerting frequency. These were lessons from elementary school—remember them, or learn them again for the first time. Either way, be careful with your usage.

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, simplify, simplify. 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 please 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 say 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 CMS 2100 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! All of the films that we watch this semester are films with which we are intimately familiar. Our reading your reiteration of the plot is as boring as your writing a reiteration of the plot. Really, folks—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. Please do not waste your time with the obvious.

Basic structure of analysis: assert and support. For every claim or argument that you make, you should include details 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, or do whatever you need to do--legally--in order to represent accurately the film in your argument. As far as this class is concerned, there are no “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 show, not simply tell.

Remember, you are composing a film analysis and not a film review. We all love movies, and indeed, the films we will be screening are in many ways worth your infinite admiration. Realize that you will offer more praise to the film by appreciating some element of its composition than you would by simply offering the word “masterpiece.” Admittedly, minimizing our gushing can often be challenging, but we can work together to esteem the films through our careful, well-supported arguments.

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