Writing: The 4 C’s

Effective writing in academic, journalistic, and professional settings demonstrates four primary virtues. It is clear, concrete, concise and correct. The table below details my shorthand marginalia (written in the margins of your papers), indicating the need for revision in these areas.

Virtue Description
Clear CL Clear writing is straightforward, avoiding convoluted phrases or over-long sentences. It favors sentences written in active voice.
Concrete CC Concrete writing is specific and values the tangible. It uses the most precise word available in any given situation.
Concise CN Concise writing packs the most meaning into the fewest words. Concise sentences rarely depend on forms of “to be” like “is” and “are.”
Correct CR Correct grammar, mechanics, and format are baseline expectations for writing in any professional field, particularly in media-related industries. Perfection is the standard.

Other Marginalia

check mark
On written drafts, a check mark next to a passage indicates excellent work. Occasionally, I’ll combine this with other marginalia. A check mark combined with “CC,” for example, indicates that this passage demonstrates excellent concreteness.
APOS
Apostrophe error
CS
Comma splice
DM
Dangling modifier
FR
Sentence fragment
Org
This indicates a problem with organization, either in the development or coherence of the paragraph. Often, I will highlight the part of the paragraph that doesn’t fit and mark it “Org.”
Plag
Plagiarism. Far too many college students do not understand plagiarism well enough to avoid committing academic fraud. There is no excuse for this, since every writer’s handbook covers plagiarism in depth.
MLA
Use the formatting standards codified by the Modern Language Association. These are presented in any writing handbook.
MM
Misplaced Modifier
MS
Mixed sentence construction
PN
Pronoun error
VF
Verb form
VT
Verb tense
SB
Sentence boundaries. Problems in this area include run-on sentences as well as fragments.
SC
Semi-colon error. Often, the writer should have used a colon instead.
ST
Structure. This indicates a problem in the sequencing of the essay as a whole. An academic essay typically includes an introduction, body, and conclusion, and each body paragraph relates clearly to what came before and after.
SV
Subject-Verb agreement
TR
Transition
WC
Word choice