Edit for AWK (Awkward Writing)

What does AWK Mean? Should you use AWK when critiquing the work of other writers, speakers, and knowledge workers? Learn how to edit awkward sentences.

AWK (Awkward) is an abbreviation some teachers and copy editors use to tell writers that they find some bit of discourse –perhaps a word, phrase, clause, sentence — to be unnecessarily confusing.

AWK, for Awkward, is shorthand: it’s an informal way for a reviewer (see Critique) to provide critical feedback.

Experienced writers use AWK to reference a number of problems, including

  1. Ambiguous pronouns
    1. Clarify who or what you are referring to when you use pronouns like “he” or “it.”
  2. Brevity, Concision
  3. Missing words or phrases: A missing word or phrase can obscure meaning and cause confusion. Insert missing words or phrases to complete the intended thought.
  4. Misplaced or dangling modifiers:
    • If a modifier is misplaced or is modifying a subject not mentioned in the sentence, the message could be misleading or confusing to the reader. Place modifiers as close as possible to the object being modified.
  5. Nominalizations
    1. –i.e., nouns made from verbs.
    • When a writer turns verbs into nouns, they are removing the action from the sentence.
  6. Jumbled Syntax
    1. Subject-verb order: The English language usually follows the pattern subject-verb-object (SVO), but other languages may follow different patterns. Non-native English speakers may need to check their sentences for appropriate syntactical construction.
    • Example of SVO: The scholarly article explains theories on global warming. Subject = article; Verb = explains; Object = theories
    • Example of OSV: Theories on global warming the scholarly article explains. (awkward)
  7. Unnecessary prepositional phrases.


Calderonello, A. H., & Klein, T. (1979). Eradicating AWK or grammar on the firing line: Its relationship to composition. English Education11(2), 67-82.

Brickey, R. (2013). ” Awk”-ing and” frag”-ing our way to the writing center. Writing on the Edge24(1), 49-62.

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