A picture of a pile of papers from Nick Byrd's "Grade papers quickly with shorthand" post

Grading Shorthand: Quick, Consistent, and Constructive Feedback

Grading with shorthand allows me to grade papers quickly. This is great for me, of course, but —more importantly — it’s great for students. Using grading shorthand means that students get prompt, consistent, and constructive feedback.

I’ve included the key to my grading shorthand below. I’ve also included the printer-friendly, PDF version of the key that I give to students. You are welcome to use and adapt the shorthand, including the PDF, however you see fit — it’s in the public domain. And you are more than welcome to share your own shorthand with me in the comments, on social media, or by contacting me directly. Happy grading! 

 1.  Grading Shorthand Key

:)This part is well-written. It was a delight to read. Thanks!
This is right! Well done.
+Partially correct. Missing key parts.
Not quite, but sort of. Either you’re misunderstanding this or you understand it, but you’re not writing clearly enough. Protip: test out your understanding of the material in class or office hours (when your grade isn’t on the line). E.g., “Does so-and-so’s argument for ____ rely on the claim that _____?”
This is not correct.
(Disconnect). It seems like you think these things are related in a way that they are not. If I am wrong, then this means that you need to make your point more clearly (see also “?”).
It’s not clear how these thoughts are related, so this is hard to follow. Explain the connection between each point you make.
?Confusing or Awkward. I’ve read this multiple times in order to try to figure out what you mean and I still don’t know. It should be difficult for me to misunderstand you. Proofreading test: Have someone read your paper and then tell you what they think you’re saying. If they misunderstand you at all, then look for ways to be more clear.
→←This claim contradicts a claim you made earlier. That means either this claim or the earlier claim must be false. So you will have to figure out which claim is false, remove it from your argument, and then figure out whether and how you can make the argument work without that claim.
Add text here. If I wrote something above the ⌃, that’s my suggested text.
!This claim (or its implication) is too strong. Strong claims do not always make for strong arguments. The stronger a claim (or its implication), the harder it is to defend. So don’t make a claim so strong that you cannot defend it.
(upshot). You’ve starting making a point, but you haven’t finished. What’s the upshot? Once you figure it out, signpost the upshot: “This means that …”
(as in “subtract”) Try being more concise. If it’s (1) a quotation: use verbatim quotes only if you need to draw attention to the original wording. Most of the time, you do not need a direct quote. Rather, you should summarize the author in your own words (and then cite it, of course). If it’s (2) your own writing: this could be said with fewer words. See also “F” (for Fluff).
Don’t do this. Common issues: “In my opinion…,” “The dictionary defines X as…,” “Science proves/disproves…,” “Since the beginning of…,” “[So-and-so] was born in such-and-such…,” etc.
Arg(A problem with the argument). This reasoning error was discussed in the readings or in class.
C(Cite) This needs to be cited. Use in-text parenthetical citations or footnoted citations. Accompany these with a works cited list. Use one format throughout — ideally the format used in your field/major.
Calc(Calculation) Show the calculation for this or change it to a non-quantitative claim.
D(Develop). Ooo! This might have potential! Alas, not enough is said about it. Provide more detail, offer more support, consider objections, etc.
df(Definition). Given the nature of this assignment, you should define this. Don’t appeal to a dictionary. Define it based on how the word is used in our class.
E(Error) writing error. Common errors: missing word, repeated word, spelling, grammar, run-on sentence, incomplete sentence, erroneous punctuation, etc.
F(Fluff). If you’re not (1) presenting a premise/conclusion, (2) explaining how premises lead to a conclusion, (3) supporting a premise, (4) objecting to a premise/conclusion, (5) explaining the upshot of your objection, or (6) responding to an objection, then you’re adding fluff. Please (please!): no fluff.
Good!This part is well-written. It was a delight to read. Thanks!
HW(Handwriting). I can’t read this. If I can’t read it, then I can’t give credit for it.
I/E(Implicit vs. Explicit). This merely implies a point. It is better to make the point explicitly. Examples: “How could we know?!” vs. “We cannot know.” “There is something to be said for X.” vs. “Here is what we should say about X and why we should say it:…”
LList. This might be easier for the reader to digest in list form.
New paragraph here. Including multiple conclusions in a paragraph makes for gratuitously difficult reading. Paragraph breaks (and signposts, transitions, etc.) help your reader transition between each part of your thought process.
S(Support) This claim is not well-supported. Try showing (1) how the opposite of your claim is impossible or implausible, (2) how your claim is supported by the preponderance of evidence, (3) how the claim follows from some intuitively plausible (e.g., uncontroversial) principle(s), and/or (4) how your claim best jibes with the accepted meaning of the relevant concept(s). Note: if your interlocutor objected to this claim, then you need to respond to their objection.
T(Thesis) This seems to be your thesis. The thesis is the conclusion of your argument(s). Every part of your paper should be dedicated to providing and supporting the premises of this argument, explaining how your conclusion follows from your premises, and responding to objections to the thesis. Tip: limit yourself to one thesis and make sure you articulate it clearly in (at least) the introduction and conclusion of your paper.
WC(Word Choice). This probably isn’t the best word or phrase for what you are trying to say. Try something else.

2.  A Printer-friendly Version

A key to grade papers quickly with shorthand.

To the extent possible under law, Nick Byrd has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to this post (not including images), “Grading Shorthand: Quick, Consistent, and Constructive Feedback”. This work is published from: United States.

3.  Related Posts

Featured image: “College Math Papers” by JohnnyMrNinja, CC BY 2.0.

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Nick Byrd

Nick is a cognitive scientist at Florida State University studying reasoning, wellbeing, and willpower. Check out his blog at byrdnick.com/blog

4 thoughts on “Grading Shorthand: Quick, Consistent, and Constructive Feedback”

    1. Hadn’t thought of a poster. I do often give out the letter-sized key to students early in the semester so that they can familiarize themselves with common mistakes and my expectations. I suppose I could also make it part of a syllabus and/or slideshow.

  1. I assume by “however you see fit” you mean I can just steal this? (How about putting CC0 on it https://creativecommons.org/share-your-work/public-domain/cc0/)

    I’ve used the following abbreviations in the past:

    Abbreviations used


    Clarify. You should have said this more clearly. (I can probably
    tell what you mean, though.)


    Elaborate. You should say more here. E.g., why and how is this claim
    supporting something else you said?


    Irrelevant. What you say here is irrelevant to the question.


    Relation? It’s unclear that what you say here is connected to what
    comes before and after.


    Mis-Quoted. If you use quotes from the text, they must (a) be
    relevant to the point you’re discussing (and you should make evident
    why it is) and (b) it must combine wiith the rest of your own
    writing to form a complete, meaningful sentence.


    Not A Word. What you wrote is not a word.


    Not A Sentence. What you wrote isn’t a complete sentence.


    Proof Read. Something here goes wrong, and you should have catched
    it if you had proof-read your paper.


    Rhetorical Question: Asking a rhetorical question can usually not
    substitute for making a claim and giving an argument for it.


    Style: You could have said this much simpler and
    more straightforwardly. Short sentences are good. If it reads like a
    poem, it’s probably not clear philosophical writing.


    Technical Term. You are using a term here that has a specific
    philosophical meaning, but you don’t seem to be using it in
    that sense. E.g., “The idea refers to an object”—“refer” is a
    technical term, it is used to express a relation between expressions
    and the objects they denote. Rewrite, e.g., as “The idea is
    associated with an object.”


    Use/mention Mistake. You must be careful to distinguish between
    expressions and the objects they refer to. E.g., “The Morning Star
    refers to Venus”—planets aren’t the kinds of things that refer,
    expressions are. You should have written “‘The Morning Star’ refers
    to Venus.”


    What do you mean here? I just can’t tell what you’re trying to say.
    This sentence or phrase is unclear, ambiguous, or you seem to be
    saying something obviously false (so I assume it can’t be what
    you mean).

    1. Yes, please steal some or all of this shorthand and/or the PDF. I’ll add the proper license ASAP.

      And thanks for your helpful shorthand. I especially like the shorthand for the use/mention distinction.

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