Common Editing and Proofreading Marks in Composition

proofreading marks
Correction symbols and abbreviations are a kind of shorthand used by instructors when grading essays. (Dougall_Photography/Getty Images)

When your instructor returns a composition, are you sometimes puzzled by the abbreviations and symbols that appear in the margins? If so, this guide should help you decipher those marks during the editing and proofreading stages of the writing process.

Note that the advice in parentheses is greatly simplified. For more information about any of these topics, click on the highlighted terms.

ab abbreviation (Use a standard abbreviation or write out the word in full.)

ad adjective or adverb (Use the correct form of the modifier.)

agr agreement (Use the correct ending to make the verb agree with its subject.)

awk awkward expression or construction

cap capital letter (Replace a lowercase letter with a capital letter.)

case case (Use the appropriate case of the pronoun: subjective, objective, or possessive.)

cliché cliché (Replace the worn-out expression with a fresh figure of speech.)

coh coherence and cohesion (Make clear connections as you move from one point to the next.)

coord coordination (Use coordinating conjunctions to relate equal ideas.)

cs comma splice (Replace the comma with a period or a conjunction.)

d diction (Replace the word with one that's more precise or appropriate.)

dm dangling modifier (Add a word so that the modifier refers to something in the sentence.) 

emph emphasis (Restructure the sentence to emphasize a key word or phrase.)

frag sentence fragment (Add a subject or verb to make this word group complete.)

fs fused sentence (Separate the word group into two sentences.)

gloss glossary of usage (Check the glossary to see how to use this word correctly.)

hyph hyphen (Insert a hyphen between these two words or word parts.)

inc incomplete construction

irreg irregular verb (Check our index of verbs to find the correct form of this irregular verb.)

ital italics (Put the marked word or phrase in italics.)

jarg jargon (Replace the expression with one your readers will understand.)

lc lowercase letter (Replace a capital letter with a lowercase letter.)

mm misplaced modifier (Move the modifier so that it clearly refers to an appropriate word.)

mood mood (Use the correct mood of the verb.)

nonst nonstandard usage (Use standard words and word forms in formal writing.)

org organization (Organize information clearly and logically.)

p punctuation (Use an appropriate mark of punctuation.)

' apostrophe

: colon

, comma


. period

? question mark

" " quotation marks

paragraph break (Begin a new paragraph at this point.)

// parallelism (Express paired words, phrases, or clauses in grammatically parallel form.)

pro pronoun (Use a pronoun that refers clearly to a noun.)

run-on run-on (fused) sentence (Separate the word group into two sentences.)

slang slang (Replace the marked word or phrase with a more formal or conventional expression.)

sp spelling (Correct a misspelled word or spell out an abbreviation.)

subord subordination (Use a subordinating conjunction to connect a supporting word group to a main idea.)

tense tense (Use the correct tense of the verb.)

trans transition (Add an appropriate transitional expression to guide readers from one point to the next.)

unity unity (Don't stray too far from your main idea.)

v/^ Missing letter(s) or word(s)

# Insert a space

wordy wordy writing (Cut out unnecessary words.)

ww wrong word (Use a dictionary to find a more appropriate word.)