General Criteria for Papers

Here are some general criteria I use for grading papers. Please know, though, that each essay is unique, and I evaluate that essay on its own merits. You may write an essay that is so strong in its ideas that it earns an “A” despite missing some of the characteristics of an “A” paper. Likewise, your essay may earn a “C” if the writing is poor, even if it has an exceptional idea.

An “A” paper is exceptional. This essay has an interesting, compelling, and original argument, and it explores that argument in detail using examples from the text. In this essay, the writer has also explored the significance of those details, building the argument through penetrating analysis. The transitions throughout the paper from one idea to another are smooth. The language is clear and elegant, and there are few if any grammatical or typographical errors.

A “B” paper is strong. This essay offers an interesting and clear argument, and it explores that argument with examples from the text. In this essay, the writer has also explored the significance of those details to the unfolding argument. The transitions from one point to another are clear, and the language is smooth. There may be a few grammatical or typographical errors, but these errors do not significantly reduce the force or clarity of the argument.

A “C” paper is average. This essay offers an argument, and some details from the text are used to expand on that argument. The author has at least started to explore some of the significance of those details. The transitions between points may be mechanical and not always clear, but some effort has been made to offer guidance to the reader. Grammatical errors and typos may reduce the force and clarity of the argument.

A”D” paper is poor. This essay offers little or no argument and often seems to be a string of random examples or observations all jumbled together in a paper. The author has done little to explore the significance of those details and simply jumps from point to point while offering few if any transitions. Grammatical errors and typos may significantly reduce the clarity of the essay.

A “F” essay is. . .well, an F. This essay has arrived at this state by 1) being one of the above essays, but arriving so far after the deadline as to earn an “F”, which is at least better than a “0” and/or 2) being far short of the required paper length (say, a 2 ½ page essay for a 6-7 page essay), and/or 3) being so poorly written and argued that no credit can be given.

I do use minus and plus grades as well, and I also at times use slash grades (B/B- for example). Slash grades give me more grading options, and they often allow me to award you a few more points than you would have earned otherwise. Here’s what they mean: the top grade is the main grade the paper earned, and the bottom grade means that at times the paper rose (or dropped) to this level. Thus, an A/A- means the paper was basically an A, though in places it dropped to an A-. Alternatively, an A-/A means the paper was basically an A-, though in places it rose to the A level. All grades have a numerical equivalent that I use when calculating your final grades (so you are awarded every point or part of a point that you’ve earned!).

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