Bruce E. Baker

Comments on Essays


After marking essays for several years, I find that most of my comments are things that I repeat over and over again from one essay to the next (and all too often, from one essay to the next by the same student). To save myself time in marking, and to give myself more time to provide feedback on particular aspects of essays I am marking, I have compiled this list of frequently used comments. You could think of it as a greatest hits of essay writing errors. When you look at your essay, you will see a number of codes in circles featuring a letter and a number. The letter is the broad category and the number is the specific number of the comment within that letter. Please look to the list below to find the relevant comment.


  • G1 -- Comma splice.
  • G2 -- This word is not a coordinating conjunction, so this is a comma splice.
  • G3 -- Vague antecedent. It is not clear to what this pronoun refers.
  • G4 -- Sentence fragment.
  • G5 -- Subject/verb agreement problem.
  • G6 -- Wrong verb tense or a shift in verb tense.
  • G7 -- Run-on sentence.
  • G8 -- Although the next word is a coordinating conjunction, a comma is not needed here.
  • G9 -- Pronoun agreement.

Arguments and Evidence

  • A1 -- Good point, but explain the argument in more detail.
  • A2 -- Probably right, but you don't provide adequate evidence to prove your point.
  • A3 -- Does not follow. There is no logical link between this statement and the one before it.


  • O1 -- This paragraph needs a topic sentence.
  • O2 -- This paragraph lacks unity.
  • O3 -- You are talking about a new idea, so you should start a new paragraph.
  • O4 -- This is too vague and/or equivocal to work as a thesis statement for the essay.
  • O5 -- This is a good topic sentence because it is clear and focused.
  • O6 -- There is no thesis statement for the essay.
  • O7 -- This is too short to stand alone as a paragraph. Either develop the ideas further or incorporate them into one of the other paragraphs.
  • O8 -- Avoid phrasing the thesis for your essay in the form of a question. It should state clearly what you intend to argue.
  • O9 -- This topic sentence is too vague and provides no clear sense of focus for the paragraph.
  • O10 -- This topic sentence does not match the content of the paragraph.
  • O11 -- Combine with previous paragraph.
  • O12 -- This sentence is too long and jumbled to be an effective thesis or topic sentence.
  • O13 -- This paragraph lacks coherence.


  • S1 -- This word does not mean what you are using it to mean.
  • S2 -- This phrase or sentence is not clear.
  • S3 -- The meaning of this can be deduced from its context, but it is expressed awkwardly.
  • S4 -- Diction. The word you are using is not the one you need.
  • S5 -- Improper use of "this". Please see my comments on this in the "Information on Writing Essays" page.
  • S6 -- Avoid using first person in academic writing.
  • S7 -- Avoid this weak or indirect sentence structure.
  • S8 -- You are trying to put too many ideas into this one sentence; break it into two or more separate and more focused sentences.
  • S9 -- This word is too vague. Find one that more precisely conveys your meaning.
  • S10 -- This is not really a word.
  • S11 -- Passive voice. Please see my comments on this in the "Information on Writing Essays" page.
  • S12 -- Avoid using second person in academic writing.
  • S13 -- Place limiting modifiers next to the object they modify.
  • S14 -- Use a standard, appropriate format for dates, either "4 July 1776" or "July 4, 1776".
  • S15 -- Do not use contractions in formal writing.
  • S16 -- Misplaced modifer. This modifier (a word or more likely a phrase or clause) is attached to something other than what it is logically intended to modify.
  • S17 -- Repetition of words or phrases.
  • S18 -- Do not use a dash to link two parts of a sentence if your only reason for doing so is to avoid having to find a more appropriate structure to link the two parts of the sentence.
  • S19 -- Avoid using constructions that combine a verb plus the word "how" (as in, "The author explains how . . ."). This is too colloquial for formal writing.
  • S20 -- You can't just stick things on the end of a sentence with "for example".

Citations and Sources

  • C1 -- There needs to be a citation for this information.
  • C2 -- Footnotes go at the ends of sentences.
  • C3 -- Provide citations for all information from other sources, not just direct quotations.
  • C4 -- Render quotations accurately.
  • C5 -- Citations must follow appropriate format.
  • C6 -- Use a person's full name (as it appears in the source you are using, not just initials) the first time you refer to him or her. Subsequent mentions should use only the surname, unless you need to use the full name to avoid confusion with someone else with the same surname.
  • C7 -- You need to give the title of this work.
  • C8 -- When using quotations, include some sort of introduction or framing. Please see my comments on "bald quotes" in the "Information on Writing Essays" page.
  • C9 -- Integrate quotations grammatically into the structure of your sentence.
  • C10 -- You must copy quotations exactly as they are in the source, including spelling. This is particularly important since you are writing about American history in Britain and using a lot of American sources. Resist the temptation to Anglicise the spellings.
  • C11 -- This is a direct quote or very, very close. You need to use quotation marks or paraphrase.
  • C12 -- For quotations that would run four or more lines of text in your essay, use block format. Indent from both margins, single-space, and do not use quotation marks. (Do not, however, use a small font).
  • C13 -- After you provide the full citation in the first footnote that references a given work, you can use a shortened format in subsequent references to the same work. (There is a standard way of structuring the short reference that you can find in various reference works.)
  • C14 -- Footnote numbers go outside end punctuation.


  • M1 -- An ellipsis has spaces between the three dots like this . . . not like this ...
  • M2 -- When you refer to a word as a word, it should be enclosed in quotation marks.
  • M3 -- Write this out rather than using an abbreviation.
  • M4 -- Do not use full justification; use a ragged right margin instead.
  • M5 -- This is an essay, not a webpage. Essays have paragraphs with the beginnings indented and no blank linkes between paragraphs.
  • M6 -- Maintain parellel structure.
  • M7 -- The abbreviation for "United States" is "U.S.", not "US".
  • M8 -- Numbers that can be written out in one or two words should be. Others should use numerals. The exception to this is percentages; always use numerals for percentages.
  • M9 -- You should never use "and/or" or "he/she" or, worst of all, "s/he" in your academic writing.
  • M10 -- Mixed metaphor.
  • M11 -- Never use "etc." in formal writing. Please see my rant on this topic in the "Information for Writing Essays" page.
  • M12 -- No blank lines between paragraphs.
  • M13 -- This should be a dash, not a hyphen. If you think they are the same thing, check your grammar handbook for clarification.
  • M14 -- Learn the difference between a colon (:) and a semicolon (;).
  • M15 -- Brackets, not parentheses.
  • M16 -- A semicolon is not appropriate here.
  • M17 -- Learn how to combine single quotation marks and double quotation marks for quotations within quotations.
  • M18 -- Although the word "Government" tends to be capitalized in the UK when referring to the executive, it is never capitalized in the U.S. when used in a similar context.
  • M19 -- Don't use the term "Negro" (or worse, "negro") except in a direct quotation of in reference to a specific historical entity (Negro History movement, Negro League in baseball, etc.). The preferred modern term is "African American".
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