The Skidmore Guide to Writing

Decoding Your Instructor's Comments

Here is a short list of words (and their common abbreviations) that many instructors use when they respond to their students' writing. Sometimes these words seem confusing to students, so we've translated them and offered some tips for revising.

1. Vague (abstract, unclear)

If a sentence or passage is vague, it often contains abstract rather than concrete nouns. Here are some other causes of vagueness:

If you find that your writing is vague or unclear

2. Awkward (awk.)

Because of sentence structure or word choice, the meaning of a passage is hard to follow.

If you find that your writing is awkward

3. Diction (wrong word, ww)

Instructors use this term to mean that your word choice is not appropriate or does not make sense in the sentence. Such problems result when you don't really understand the material you're writing about or when you stretch for words with which you're not familiar. A good first step is to look up the word in a dictionary. If you find that diction is a problem, read your own paper aloud to yourself. Often, reading aloud helps you to hear problems that you don't see when you read it silently. If problems persist, ask a friend to read the paper, looking especially for words that don't seem to express the meaning you're after. Writing Center tutors can help as objective readers.

4. Syntax (syn)

This comment refers to sentence structure. If your syntax - the way you order words, phrases, or clauses - gets in the way of meaning, your reader will notice the problem. To revise, see suggestions for awkwardness.

5. Wordy

It's good discipline to edit out unnecessary words in your writing. You don't want to bury your ideas in words that don't contribute to meaning. To avoid wordiness