Marking Mate: Help

Understanding your feedback and report

Marking Mate provides you with several different types of feedback to help you improve your writing:

Report Card

This section gives you an overall evaluation of your work that is easy to understand. A happy, normal or unhappy face is awarded for each of the areas that Marking Mate has assessed, depending on how many problems were found. You are also given a total score. Your total score is calculated as follows:

A summary comment is given at the bottom of the Report Card, based on your total score, as well as advice about which area or areas you need to work on most. These are the areas in which you scored lowest.

Highlighted Text

This section of the feedback shows you specific words, phrases or punctuation that you should consider changing. Look through the items that are highlighted in this section and make changes in your orginal document if you think they are needed.

Report Details

This section gives you more general feedback about different areas of your work, along with advice on how to improve. There are also many links to this page, where the areas described are covered in more depth (please see below).

Academic Style

Marking Mate can highlight issues related to academic style. Some resources describing common features of academic style:

Informal Vocabulary and Vague Language

Academic writing tends to use more complex vocabulary as this kind of writing often describes challenging concepts and ideas. For example, rather than "big difference", in academic writing you could write "significant distinction"(from Sowton, 2012).

Also included in this section is 'vague language', which means using vocabulary that is not specific. For example, many students use 'thing' rather than a more specific noun. To correct this, find a more specific and academic noun such as 'issue, factor, or problem'.

Marking Mate will search for phrases that many tutors consider informal, simple, or over-used in academic writing. Here is a partial list of words and phrases that Marking Mate will highlight:

  • adjectives and adverbs that are too personal: amazing|fantastic|colourful|colorful|nice|horrible|disgusting|so great|wonderful|so bad|awful|brilliant|luckily|remarkably|surprisingly|shockingly|fortunately|amazingly

  • informal/simple/over-used words: in a word, in a nutshell, all in all, as we all know, every coin has two sides, first and foremost, last but not least, heated debate, hot topic, crystal clear, golden opportunity, besides, pros and cons, things, nothing, something, lots of, a lot of, a bit, little, big, etc, et cetera, and so on, good, bad, get worse, get better, like, about, get, more and more, just, let, maybe, nowadays, no matter, chance, trouble

  • multi-word verbs - too informal: go up, go down, go on, go back, bring up, come up with, talk about, look into, help out, find out, set up

An excellent resource for improving your academic vocabulary is the Academic Word List. Here are some resources to get you started:

XJTLU students: Please see your Academic Writing book Chapter 2.10 for more examples on how to improve the formality of your writing.

Personal Pronouns

Academic writing is more objective than informal writing, meaning that you should use evidence to support your ideas, rather than use your own opinions. Thus, in many kinds of academic writing, you should avoid personal language such as 'I think..., We all know that...., In my opinion,...'. You should also avoid speaking to the reader: 'You should..., You may know that...'. In general, it is good practice to avoid the first-person and second-person pronouns (personal pronouns): I, you, we, my, your, our, mine, yours, ours.

Study the following example:

  • Standard writing: "I think there are four main areas where I can see big differences between standard writing and academic writing."
  • Academic writing: "There are four main areas where differences between standard writing and academic writing can be seen."

Notice the key changes in the 'academic' example:

  • "there are" - Just delete 'I think'. Beginning sentences with 'It' clauses or 'There is/are' can sometimes help you avoid 'I'.
  • "can be seen" - uses passive voice verb (I can see -> can be seen) which makes the subject ("I") unnecessary

Other examples and advice on how to correct problems with personal pronouns:

Informal Conjunctions (at the start of sentences)

In academic writing, you should normally avoid using 'And, But, So' at the beginning of a sentence, as this is often considered informal. You might use more academic transitions (In addition, However, Therefore) or join the sentence with another sentence.


Contractions are the short form of phrases, such as "don't, can't, won't, it's, that's, what's". These are common in spoken English and informal writing, but you should usually avoid contractions in academic writing, and instead write out the full phrase: "do not, cannot, will not, it is..."

Questions and Exclamations

Questions: In many types of academic writing, both direct and rhetorical questions are usually avoided. Asking a question can often seem informal, like you are having a conversation or giving a presentation. Re-write a question as a statement or consider writing your idea in a different way.

Exclamations: An exclamation is a statement that ends with an exclamation point (!). This is used to express extreme emotion, such as excitement, surprise, or happiness. As academic writing tends to be impersonal and non-emotional, exclamations are usually avoided. You could use strong adverbs (importantly, controversially) and adjectives (revolutionary idea, important point) instead. (adapted from Sowton, 2012)

Over-confidence and Hedging Language

In academic writing, avoid making statements that sound "absolute" or "over-confident". This includes language such as obvious, it is known to all, .... Use more tentative (or cautious) language, also called hedging language. For example:

  • Over-confident: unemployment obviously causes crime
  • Tentative/Hedging: unemployment may cause crime / unemployment tends to cause crime
(The above example is taken from Sowton, 2012)

Here is a partial list of words and phrases that Marking Mate will highlight as over-confident: obviously, without a doubt, certainly, undoubtedly, doubtless, definitely, there is no doubt that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, absolutely, cannot be denied

Other resources on the importance of hedging language in academic writing:

Grammar and Punctuation

Marking Mate can highlight a number of grammar problems. Below you will find links to other websites explaining these errors with advice on how to fix them. Please remember that like most error-checking tools, Marking Mate will sometimes make mistakes and either miss grammatical errors or highlight errors that do not exist. Always carefully consider the feedback Marking Mate gives and decide for yourself if the highlighted 'error' is in fact an error.

Uncountable Noun Problems

Most nouns are 'countable', which means that there is a plural form, usually created by adding 's' or 'es', e.g. 'friends, students, classes, changes'. Some nouns, however, are 'uncountable', meaning they are normally treated as singular and have no common plural form, e.g. 'advice, research, knowledge, information, vocabulary, weather'. Marking Mate will highlight plural forms of uncountable nouns such as 'knowledges' or 'informations'.

Other resources on countable and uncountable nouns:

Modal Verb Problems

Modal verbs include can, could, would, should, must, may, might. These words are followed by a verb in the 'base form' for the present tense. For example, should study is correct, but should studying / should studies / should studied / should to study are all incorrect. Marking Mate will highlight some problems related to the form of the verb following the modal verb.

Other resources on modal verbs:

Sentence Fragments

A sentence fragment is an incomplete sentence. It may be missing a verb or a subject, or it may be a dependent clause (e.g. beginning with 'because' or 'although') and missing the independent clause. Here are some common mistakes:

  • For example, the economy. (Incomplete - missing a verb. Possible correction: For example, the economy is an important issue in politics today.)
  • Such as German, French, and Chinese. (Incomplete - missing both a subject and a verb. Possible correction: I'd like to study many language, such as German, French, and Chinese.)
  • Because it is raining. (Incomplete - missing the independent clause. Possible correction: I'll stay home today because it is raining. or Because it is raining, I'll stay home today.).
  • While my friend enjoys playing football. (Incomplete - missing the independent clause. Possible correction: While my friend enjoys playing football, I prefer basketball.)
Marking Mate can highlight sentence fragments that conform to the patterns above, although it may occasionally make mistakes.

Other resources on sentence fragments:

Comma Splices

A comma splice (some teachers may call this a run-on sentence) is a long sentence where two or more independent clauses have been joined with commas. In most cases, the simplest way to fix the sentence is to use a conjunction (and, but, so) or to divide the sentence into two or more sentences.

Here are some examples:

  • Comma splice: Many students choose to learn English because it may increase their future career opportunities, others study English because of their interest in the language and culture.
    Possible correction: opportunities, but others study....

  • Comma splice: The consumer demand for the iPhone 5 is very high, as a result, Apple has had to increase production.
    Possible correction: very high. As a result, Apple...
Notice in the second example above that the transitional phrase 'as a result' cannot be used to connect two independent clauses. Other transitional words and phrases like this include: therefore, however, in addition, for example, in contrast.

Marking Mate will sometimes make mistakes in determining whether a sentence is a comma splice, especially if the sentence has many commas or is very long. Use your best judgement to decide whether the sentence in fact has a problem.

Other resources on comma splices and run-on sentences:

Verbs: Sentences With No Past Tense Verbs

Some types of academic writing are often written in the past tense, such as the "Methods" section of an experimental or survey report. Marking Mate can underline sentences that do not have past tense to show you verbs that you may need to change to past.

Verbs: Sentences With Passive Voice Verbs

Marking Mate can highlight sentences that use passive verbs (e.g. be seen, was written, has been found). Academic writing tends to use passive more than informal writing, so this feature can give you an indication of whether you should use more passive voice.

Punctuation and Capitalization

Marking Mate can highlight several problems related to punctuation or capitalization. These include incorrect spacing around commas and periods, missing commas after initial transition/signpost words (e.g. Therefore, However, As a result, In addition,...), using non-standard English punctuation marks like Chinese commas, and forgetting to capitalize the first letter of a sentence.

General Writing Style

Marking Mate can help you write more concisely and increase the variety of language in your writing.

Repeated Vocabulary

Marking Mate highlights words that are repeated several times in either a sentence or a paragraph. While it may be useful to repeat some key words, you should consider increasing the variety in your writing by using synonyms or other ways of expressing the same idea.

According to Sowton's book "50 steps to improve your academic writing", there are three main strategies you could follow for trying to improve the range of your vocabulary:

  • Use synonyms (words/phrases that have similar meanings). When you are choosing a synonym, always consider the formailiy of the word and the context of how you are using the word.
  • Change word class. For example, change a verb to its noun form, which may involve changing the sentence grammar.
  • Read, read, read. As you read, pay attention to new ways of expressing ideas so you can develop your vocabulary.

Redundant Language

Avoid using long phrases that could be reduced to one or two words. Also, avoid language that is unnecessary. For example, rather than saying 'true fact', just write 'fact'.

Here is a partial list of phrases that Marking Mate will highlight as redundant: completely finished, past memories, various differences, each individual, basic fundamentals, true facts, important essentials, future plans, terrible tragedy, end result, final outcome, free gift, past history, unexpected surprise, sudden crisis, large in size, often times, of a bright color, heavy in weight, period in time, round in shape, at an early time, of cheap quality, honest in character, in a confused state, unusual in nature, extreme in degree, of a strange type


An in-text citation is an acknolwedgement of the source you have used for information in your text. This usually indicates the author and the publication date of the source. There are many styles for writing in-text citations. The commonly used Havard system uses the following format: (Author, Date), e.g. (Smith, 2005)

Make sure that you include a full reference at the end of your essay for each unique citation in your text. Marking Mate will highlight and count the in-text citations to alert you to check your reference list for that source. If Marking Mate misses a citation in your text, this may mean that you have not written it in the correct style or have a punctuation problem.

Cause and Effect Phrases

The timed writing version of Marking Mate will search cause/effect essays for words and phrases that can be used to show causal relationships. Most of the vocabulary it searches for is listed here:

a result of, accordingly, account for, affect, arise from, as a consequence, as a result, attribute to be a factor in, be ascribed to, be attributable to, be factors in, because, being that, benefit, blame on, cause, consequence, consequently, contribute, create, credit, derive from, determine, downside, due to, effect, explanation, facilitate, factor, follow from, for the purpose of, for the reason, for this purpose, force, generate, give rise to, have considerable influence on, hence, impact, in order to, in reaction to, in response to, in view of, inasmuch as, induce, influence, inhibit, it follows that, lead to, motivate, origin of, outcome, owing to, owing to, play a part in, play a role, precedent for, precipitate, produce , provoke, ramification, reason for, repercussion, responsible for, result in, seeing that, side effect, so as to, so that, source of, springs from, stem from, stimulate, the result is, the result of, therefore, thus, to determine whether, trigger, underlie, whether or not.

Keywords for Timed Essay Task 1

The timed writing version of Marking Mate will search for keywords to see if your essay looks like it is on topic. Some (but not all) of the keywords it searches for in Timed Essay Task 1 are listed here:

breath, breathe, cancer, cigar, cigarette, cough, discoloured, disease, heart, hospital, illness, inhale, lungs, medical, odour, pipe, pregnant, smell, smoke, stink, tabacco, tar, teeth, wheeze.

Keywords for Timed Essay Task 2

The timed writing version of Marking Mate will search for keywords to see if your essay looks like it is on topic. Some (but not all) of the keywords it searches for in Timed Essay Task 2 are listed here:

ability, assignment, attendance, attitude, class, course, coursework, deadline, effort, English, exam, fail, grade, homework, intelligent, language, late, lazy, learn, lecturer, lesson, listen, low, mark, mentality, miss, nervous, poor, professor, read, score, speak, stress, student, study, successs, teach, test, tutor, vocabulary, work, worry, write.

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