Grading standards for composition courses

An A paper is both engaging to read and intellectually stimulating. The writer demonstrates that the topic at hand is compelling and worth attention, and formulates a convincing and original perspective about that topic. Where appropriate, the perspective is supported with research that is thorough, well-explained, correctly cited, and integrated well into the rest of the paper. Competing perspectives are acknowledged, and the writer offers good reasons for favoring some perspectives over others. The essay appears both well thought-out and carefully presented, with very few, if any, obstructions to readers’ understanding.

BORDERLINE: Often, the difference between an A and a B paper comes down to significance. If the paper not only makes a persuasive case in support of its thesis, but explains why (and to whom) that position makes a difference, it is likely to be deemed excellent.

Although the argument of a B paper is clear, the writer’s approach is not as fully engaged with the complexity of the topic as readers may expect. The paper is generally not difficult to read, but may include at least one notable obstacle to a reader’s understanding. Research (if used) is appropriately cited and supports, rather than overwhelms or distracts from, the paper’s argument. The writer demonstrates an awareness of competing perspectives about the issue at hand, although the negotiation of, and response to, those perspectives may be uneven.

BORDERLINE: Although a C paper has a thesis, a B paper likely has a stronger one, one that not only conveys a point of view but defines the paper’s scope and suggests a line of reasoning that will support its perspective effectively.

The readers of a C paper can identify its purpose and approach without difficulty, but may find some of its reasoning unpersuasive if they do not already share the writer’s point of view. The argument presented is vague, difficult to follow, or conventional to the point of unoriginality. Some of its claims may be insufficiently supported. The essay may need to be better focused, or the quality of evidence improved. Although the writer of a C paper is clearly competent, such a paper often includes recurring errors in grammar or usage, possibly to the point of distracting the reader or impeding clarity.

BORDERLINE: A paper that is otherwise competently written will not attain the status of a C paper unless it presents a clear thesis. A reader of the paper should be able to understand, and summarize in a sentence or two, what its main argument is.

A D paper seems incomplete or unclear in some way. Major portions of this essay seem difficult to understand or else do not correspond to the topic implied by the rest of the essay. Reasons for classifying a paper in this category include not presenting a discernable thesis, not focusing on material that is relevant to the topic, inadequate or inappropriate research, and persistent problems at the sentence or paragraph level (with mechanics, organization, etc.). Even with some effort, most readers would find themselves unable to understand part of what the writer is getting at.

BORDERLINE: An unoriginal paper, for example one that merely summarizes the opinions of others without explaining the writer’s own reasoning, will not receive a passing grade.

An F paper fails to meet the assignment, or else meets it only superficially. Research (if required) is inadequate, or else is not integrated with—and put into context by—the writer’s own contribution. A clear argument or focus usually cannot be discerned, or else is not supported appropriately. Reasons for classifying a paper in this category include incompleteness (not satisfying the assignment requirements), lack of clarity (an average reader cannot easily discern what the paper’s purpose and approach are), and/or plagiarism (using source material without appropriate attribution). Usually, more than one obstacle to readers’ understanding—such as recurring mechanical errors, lack of organization, confusing use of words, consistently awkward sentence structure—is present.

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