The Marking Key

My “Marking Key” is available for purchase here along with a free download of the Marking Key Error Log. The Marking Key is a digital-only PDF that can be shared with students. The Error Log can be printed.

The Marking Key began to take shape years ago when I was faced with large numbers of essays to mark. Tired of writing the same comments repeatedly in the margins, I began with a simple one-page handout with the most common errors and marginal comments numbered. Instead of writing out the comments, I simply put the corresponding numbers in the margins. Students could then refer to the handout to see what the numbers meant.

Gradually, the Marking Key expanded into a hyperlinked document that, including all the explanations and appendices, runs over fifty pages. Although I keep thinking it must finally be complete, I continue to make additions and corrections from time to time.

For teachers faced with stacks of essays, it can be a great time-saver.

Students can use the hyperlinked elements of the Marking Key to read further explanations that will help them to avoid making the same errors in future work. The errors are grouped into three sections: Essay Technique, Style & Expression, and Mechanics: Grammar, Spelling, Punctuation, Etc. The 50+ pages of explanations and examples represent several decades’ worth of handouts covering the full range of issues that students face as they work to become fluent and competent essayists.

I usually ask students to complete the “Marking Key Error Log” when they receive their marked essays; this helps to ensure that they actually use the Marking Key and benefit from it. When deciding which errors should be given priority, students should correct the errors that are in bold face first.

The Marking Key and the Error Log are the most effective tools for teaching composition that I have discovered in more than forty years of teaching.