Editing Guide: Comment Types

When contributing to a writing project, comment types are used to tell authors about good and bad elements within their manuscript. This is a list of comment types to provide a common frame of reference for all writers.
Compiled by Ranee Clark.

  • Ambiguous Pronoun Use

    1. When a pronoun is placed in a sentence with more than on possible antecedent (the noun thepronoun stands for). The reader will automatically group the pronoun with the closest antecedent, which may not be the noun the author intended.
    2. When a pronoun is placed in the sentence before the antecedent.
      Example: If you see him, tell my brother to come home now.
      The noun “him” is used before the antecedent it identifies, “my brother.” The reader has to wait until the end of the sentence to figure out who or what the pronoun refers to, causing confusion.
    3. When an antecedent is missing from the sentence.
      Example: They are always watching to make sure we don’t steal anything in the grocery store.
      While a reader can make assumptions about who the vague “they” refers to, they may not come to the conclusion you intended.
    4. When narration or dialog deals with more than one female or more than one male, the pronoun use can get confusing. A pronoun refers to the last person mentioned.
      Example: Bob and Dave went fishing, and he caught a huge fish. (The he refers to Dave since he is the last male mentioned.)
      Bad example: Ranee` combed Nikki’s hair, and then she trimmed it. (The writer means Ranee` trimmed Nikki’s hair after she combed it, but since Nikki is the last female mentioned, the she actually refers to her.) 
      Bottom line: Be careful with your pronouns. If in doubt, substitute the character’s name.
    5. The pronoun must agree with its antecedent.
      The unfamiliar figure wore a belt around their waist.
      The mistake is most commonly made when the antecedent is unidentifiable as a male or female; however, “their” is a plural pronoun and “unfamiliar figure” is a singular antecedent. 
      Options: The unfamiliar figure wore a belt around his or her waist. Or The unfamiliar figure wore a belt around its waist.
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  • Awkward

    Something about the highlighted text seems off. Consider ways you could rewrite or remove this content.

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  • Be Strong, Be Specific

    Use strong, specific language when writing so writing is concise. 
    Instead of “car,” write, “the Ford Taurus.” 
    Use the strong, specific language to tell something about the character or the situation. What does it say if a character drives a Taurus? What does it say if they drive a BMW? Differences all conveyed by simple words, without having a description of the person.

    Instead of “walk,” write, “strut” or “marched” or “shuffled.” 
    With one word they all convey different ways of moving.

    Define “It” - It can be used just like a pronoun. Make sure it’s not ambiguous or confusing. Be specific.

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  • Believability

    When something in your story isn't believable it distracts the reader.

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  • Boring

    The material in this part of the story isn't interesting, the pacing is too slow or there is too much exposition (background detail).

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  • Capitalization

    When using a title as a name, it should be capitalized.

    Mom, how are you doing?
    President Obama signed the new law.
    I ran into Aunt Elizabeth at the store.
    When the title is not used as a name, do not capitalize.

    My mom is doing well since the surgery.
    The president signed the new law.
    I ran into my aunt, Elizabeth, at the store.

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  • Comma Splices

    When two independent clauses are joined by a comma without using proper coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, yet), it results in a comma splice.

    Incorrect Example: 
    I jammed the paper in the folder, it got stuck
    Possible Corrections: 
    I jammed the paper in the folder. It got stuck.
    I jammed the paper in the folder; it got stuck.
    I jammed the paper in the folder, but it got stuck.

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  • Commas in a Series

    Use commas between all items in a series to avoid confusion. While it is not incorrect, leaving thecomma out may cause unintended groupings and associations in the list.

    (No comma) I bought the soda, chips and hot dogs.
    (Comma) I bought the soda, chips, and hot dogs.

    Whatever style the author chooses, it should be consistent throughout the manuscript.

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  • Confusing

    Some part of surrounding content doesn't make sense. This might be because your didn't provide enough context, there are missing words or some other reason.

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  • Cool

    This part is particularly inventive, original or something similar.

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  • Cut

    Uneccesary content, consider cutting it to move the story along better.

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  • Dialogue Attribution

    1. How to punctuate using dialog tags such as said or asked.
      “We’re going to the store,” she said.
      “We’re going to the store?” he asked.
      “We’re going to the store!” they exclaimed.
      Even when dialog tags precede the sentence:
      She said, “We’re going to the store.”
    2. How to punctuate using an action tag.
      She held open the door. “We’re going to the store."
      “I’m glad we agree.” He followed her out.
      The speaker is clear because it is his/her action that precedes/follows the dialog.
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  • Dialogue Attribution Problems

    It is unclear who is speaking. Often, to avoid overuse of the words said, asked, etc., writers useactions to tag speeches by characters. Be sure that the actions used to tag the speeches are the actions of the character speaking.

    When Jane came home, Bob was sitting in a chair near the fireplace. Jane set down her bag and turned to him. He stood. “I think we should break up.” Jane’s mouth dropped open.

    In this case, since actions by both characters surround the speech, it’s unclear who spoke. Never make readers guess at something like this. There are several ways to fix it.

    . . . He stood. “I think we should break up,” he said. Jane’s mouth dropped open.
    OR . . . He stood. “I think we should break up.”
    [New paragraph] Jane’s mouth dropped open.

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  • Ellipsis

    Ellipses are used to denote pauses in dialog or a sentence faltering off.

    “I wish . . . he would learn how to love again,” she said wistfully. 
    Or “I wish he would learn how to love again. . . .,” she said wistfully

    Tip: Do not confuse ellipses (used for pauses, hesitation, or trailing off) with em-dashes. Em-dashes (—) are used for abrupt breaks or interruptions.

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  • Exciting

    This part got the blood flowing and is a great part of the story you should definitely keep!

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  • Grammar

    A grammatical error or concern.

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  • Lame

    Something about this made the reader less interested in reading your story. It may be awkward, not believable, out of character or a combination of many things. Consider how it might be perceived and what revisions might fix it.

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  • Misplaced Modifiers

    When words or phrases that modify other words and phrases get too far apart or stuck in the wrong place, the sentences can end up silly and confusing.

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  • Motivation Before the Reaction

    A character’s reaction is presented before the motivation is clear, causing confusion.

    Example: Ranee cringed as she saw the comma splice.
    The reaction (cringed) is presented before what caused it (the comma splice.) As the reader begins he sentence, they’re unsure of why the reaction is happening.

    Instead: Ranee` saw the comma splice and cringed.

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  • Not Believable

    Something about the situation or characters behavior feels fake.

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  • Numbers

    Spell out numbers from 1-100 or a number at the beginning of a sentence. Spell out numbers that are simple, but avoid spelling out complicated, confusing numbers.

    One hundred guests came to the party
    We had a thousand and fifty invitations to accept.
    Jane was born in 1983.

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  • Other

    The bucket for everything else.

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  • Out of Character

    Self-explanatory. Just like every person acts and speaks differently, so should your character. Mannerisms, patterns of speech, and choices made are all different depending on the character. When they speak or act differently than the reader is accustomed, or make a choice that doesn’t make sense, it throws the reader and makes the story less believable.

    Tip: Use a character bible to get to know your character.

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  • Passive Voice

    Passive voice can become awkward and usually denotes that an author is telling the action to the reader instead of showing it. Use active voice unless vagueness is done on purpose, and even then, it’s not always necessary. Passive voice is an object being acted upon instead of a subject acting for itself.

    Passive voice
    The pencil was set down on the table.
    The suitcase was ripped out of my hands.
    Active voice
    I set the pencil down on the table. OR perhaps, The pencil dropped to the table.
    The man ripped the suitcase out of my hands.

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  • Praise

    I liked this part.

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  • Punctuation inside Quotation Marks

    This is a touchy one. For the sake of fiction writing, it’s easiest to remember that almost all punctuation goes inside of the quotation marks—because most cases of using quotation marks in fiction have to do with dialog.

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  • Questions

    This type is selected when a user is confused or wants to know more about the highlighted section, see the comment below.

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  • Repetition

    Watch out for using the same words or phrases too near to each other.

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  • Show, don't tell

    Show, don't tell is a technique often employed in various kinds of texts to enable the reader to experience the story through action, words, thoughts, senses, and feelings rather than through the author's exposition, summarization, and description. The goal is not to drown the reader in heavy-handed adjectives, but rather to allow readers to interpret significant details in the text. The technique applies equally to nonfiction and all forms of fiction, including literature, speech, movie making, and playwriting.

    Source: Wikipedia | Examples

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  • Stating the Obvious

    Actions, dialog, etc. should drive the story and telling a reader something already shown or a character has already said slows the story. Trust the reader to know what you’re talking about. Don’t guide them through the story; let them live it.

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  • Suggestion

    An idea or way of saying something that you might consider.

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  • Typo

    This is a spelling error.

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  • Unnecessary Words

    RULE: Say everything as simply and concise as possible. 

    1. Begin, Start: Unless an action will be interrupted, begin or start is not necessary. The words clog up the sentence and water down the action.
    2. POV reminders: Hear, saw, smelled, etc. Establishing your point of view for narration is a discussion for another day. Readers do not need to be reminded of the characters point of view with unnecessary words like the above. Again, it waters down the action. The readers can just see, just hear, just smell.
      Example: I heard footsteps coming closer. I saw a shadow looming over me. I smelled the stink of his feet.
      Better: Footsteps clicked closer at a rapid pace. A shadow loomed over me. The stink of my attacker’s foot filled my nostrils.
    3. Prosy language, long, involved sentences, detailed descriptions. Most of the time they throw the reader or cause confusion. They may interrupt the flow of the narrative, causing the reader to slow or reread in order to understand. There are always exceptions, but simplifying is almost always better.
    4. Adverbs, especially: really, quickly, and very are often redundant and unnecessary. Take adverbs out wherever it doesn’t change the sentence or tone. If you can’t take one out without changing the meaning or tone, try to reword and drive the sentence without the adverb. Use the adverb as a last resort.
    5. Deadwood words that mean nothing or are redundant.
      • In order to → to
      • nodded his head
      • cried out
      • sat down
    6. ​Garbage words that don’t add anything to the narration. Many of us use them simply out of habit.
      • very, really, a bit, immediately, suddenly, any, just
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  • Using “To Be”

    “To be” and its forms often denote that the narrator is telling the reader something rather than showing it. Of course in many cases using ‘was’ is okay; Never change the sentence if it will sound awkward, out of character, or change the meaning.

    To be is used in many instances where you can change it.

    1. In the passive voice: The job was done by Ranee`. Better: Ranee` did the job.
    2. Past progressive: Ranee` was going to the store. Better: Ranee` went to the store.
    3. Character Specs or description: Ranee’ was short. Better: Ranee` only stood up to my shoulder.
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  • Using Contractions

    Listen to people speaking around you. Nearly everyone speaks using contractions. When characters do not, it makes them sound snobby. If your character is not using contractions, make sure they have a good reason not to.

    Example: Are you writing historical fiction? (Consider that many contractions were in common use by 1900, and even before. Do your word research.) Does your character intend to sound stiff and historical?

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  • Using Said

    Use said and asked 99% of the time. Don’t use attribution words that a normal human can’t actually do, e.g. hiss, laugh, smile, etc. If you doubt me, try hissing and saying your sentence at the same time, try it with all the other words. 

    This is always a style choice, but the trend right now (and basically what editors, agents, and readers will expect) is to leave out attributions like shout, shriek, etc. A reader’s mind skips over “said” and “asked,” whereas using shriek, shout, hiss, etc. jars the readers mind and causes him to pause, which disrupts flow. Keep it simple and let the dialog drive it. Using “loud” attributives is another form of telling.

    Example: “I never want to see you again!” she shouted.
    The shouted is almost repetitive here. We know by what she said that she’s angry. If she did something other than shout a she said this, saying it in an unexpected way, you may want to tag it. For Example: “I never want to see you again,” she whimpered.

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  • Vary the Sentence Structure

    Using the same pattern of sentence structure becomes boring to a reader. Vary sentence construction.

    Bad Example: I went to the store and bought food for the week. I drove home and fixed dinner. I ate dinner and went to bed. (Each sentence is constructed as I did something then I did something else. Each sentence starts with ‘I.’)

    Better Example: I went to the store and bought for the week. After I finished, I drove home. I ate dinner. Finally I went to bed.

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