Department of English, Bemidji State University
M C Morgan, 2004, 2012
Adapted from Penn State Dept of English
These grading standards, adapted from Penn State's, use four criteria for evaluation at each grade level: purpose, reasoning and content, organization, and expression. Not every essay will fit neatly into one grade category; some essays may, for instance, have some characteristics of B and some of C. The final grade the essay receives depends on the weight the instructor gives each criterion.
Instructors may also have additional criteria for grades, such as whether the essay was received on time, and the development of the essay across drafts. Instructors may also take into account the time students are given to compose the essay: Timed, in-class essays might demand adapting these criteria to suit the situation.
However, grades on final drafts of papers should reflect the writing submitted for a grade rather than the background effort. Reasonable readers, using these criteria, should grade the same paper within a grade category of each other solely by evidence on the page.
1. The A essay fulfills the assignment in a fresh, insightful, and mature manner, using purposeful language that leads to knowledge making. The essay effectively meets the needs of the rhetorical situation in terms of establishing the writer’s stance, attention to audience, purpose for writing, and sensitivity to context. The audience addressed is mature, responsive, and complex. When appropriate to the assignment, the writer demonstrates expertise in employing the appeals of ethos, logos, and pathos appropriately and effectively.
2. The topic itself is clearly defined, focused, and supported. The essay has a clear thesis - stated or implied - that is supported with specific (and appropriate) evidence, examples, and details. Any outside sources of information are used carefully and cited appropriately. The reasoning in the essay is valid and demonstrates good judgment and an awareness of the topic’s complexities.
3. The organization—chronological, spatial, or emphatic—is appropriate for the purpose and subject of the essay. The introduction establishes a context, purpose, and audience for the writing (either explicitly or by clear implication). It may use an explicit, focused thesis statement or make an implicit one clear. The following paragraphs are controlled by (explicit or implicit) topic sentences; they are well developed; and they progress logically from what precedes them. (If appropriate, headings and subheadings may be used.) The essay develops across paragraphs and an organizational principle inferable and appropriate. The conclusion moves beyond a mere restatement of the introduction, offering implications for or the significance of the topic.
4. The prose is clear, readable, and sometimes memorable. It may contain a few surface errors, but they do not seriously undermine the overall effectiveness of the paper for educated readers. It demonstrates fluency in stylistic flourishes (subordination, variation of sentence and paragraph lengths, interesting vocabulary).
1. The assignment has been followed and fulfilled. The essay establishes the writer’s stance and demonstrates a clear sense of the specified audience, purpose, and context. The B essay may exhibit some characteristics of the Five-Paragraph Theme.
2. The topic is fairly well defined, focused, and supported. The thesis - stated or implied - is adequate (but could be sharpened), especially for the quality of supporting evidence the writer has used. The reasoning and support are thorough and more than adequate. The writer demonstrates a thoughtful awareness of complexity and other points of view.
3. The B essay has an effective beginning and ending, which may appear as formal introduction and conclusion. The order of information is logical, and the reader can follow it because of well-chosen transitions and (explicit or implicit) topic sentences. The essay develops across paragraphs and has an inferable or explicit principle of organization. Paragraph divisions are logical, and the paragraphs use enough specific detail to satisfy the educated reader.
4. The prose is clear and readable. Sentence structure is appropriate for educated readers, including the appropriate use of subordination, emphasis, varied sentences, and modifiers. Few sentence-level errors (comma splices, fragments, or fused sentences) appear. Vocabulary is precise and appropriate; punctuation, usage, and spelling conform to the conventions of Standardized American English discussed in class.
1. The assignment has been followed, and the essay demonstrates a measure of response to the rhetorical situation, in so far as the essay demonstrates some sense of audience and purpose, but the audience addressed is passive and simplistic. The C essay may exhibit the characteristics of the Five-Paragraph Theme: a clichéd or wooden thesis, and clichéd arguments arranged in a list-like sequence. The C essay written from sources reads like a report: a sequence of quotations or paraphrases, each followed by brief commentary from the writer, without significant original analysis.
2. The topic is defined only generally; the thesis - stated or implied - is also general. The supporting evidence, gathered honestly and used responsibly, is, nevertheless, often obvious and easily accessible. The writer demonstrates little awareness of the topic’s complexity or other points of view; therefore, the C essay usually exhibits minor imperfections or inconsistencies in development, organization, and reasoning.
3. The organization is fairly clear, but the paper doesn't develop significantly from paragraph to paragraph. The reader could outline the presentation, despite the occasional lack of topic sentences. Paragraphs have adequate development and are divided appropriately. The development may be list-like. Transitions may be mechanical, but they do foster coherence.
4. The expression is competent, if wooden. Sentence structure is relatively simple, relying on simple and compound sentences. The paper is generally free of sentence-level errors; word choice is correct though limited. The essay may contain errors in spelling, usage, and punctuation that reveal a lack of familiarity with the conventions of Standardized American English discussed in class.
1. The D essay attempts to follow the assignment, but demonstrates little awareness of the rhetorical situation in terms of the writer’s stance, audience, purpose, and context. For example, the essay might over- or under-estimate (or ignore) the audience’s prior knowledge, assumptions, or beliefs. The writer may have little sense of purpose.
2. The essay may not have a thesis statement, or a flawed one. Obvious evidence may be missing, and irrelevant evident may be present. Whatever the status of the evidence, it is inadequately interpreted and rests on an insufficient understanding of the rhetorical situation. Or it may rely too heavily on evidence from published sources without adding original analysis.
3. Organization is difficult to see or infer. Introductions or conclusions may not clearly marked or functional; paragraphs are may not be coherently developed nor arranged; they might not even be marked as paragraphs; topic sentences are consistently missing, murky, or inappropriate; transitions are missing or flawed.
4. The D essay may have numerous and consistent errors in spelling, usage, and punctuation that reveal unfamiliarity with the conventions of Standardized American English discussed in class (or a lack of careful proofreading).
1. The F essay is inappropriate in terms of the purpose of the assignment and the rhetorical situation. If the essay relates vaguely to the assignment, it has no clear purpose or direction.
2. The essay falls seriously short of the minimum length requirements; therefore, it is insufficiently developed and does not go beyond the obvious.
3. The F essay is plagued by more than one of the organizational deficiencies of a D essay.
4. Numerous and consistent errors of spelling, usage, and punctuation hinder communication.
5. The essay is plagiarized: either it is someone else’s essay, or this essay has used sources improperly and/or without documentation. Essays that are plagiarized must receive an F.