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A Paper

Page history last edited by Joe Essid 12 years, 10 months ago


What is an "A Paper"? A guide for my classes

Have you heard the old saw that an infinite number of chimps, working on an infinite number of word processors, would eventually type out Hamlet? All of you are a lot smarter than any number of primates, but you don't have an infinite number of weeks to get things "perfect" for me or any other professor. I hope this page will demystify how I grade written work.


In general, as I grade papers I consider errors in thinking--cloudy thesis statements, digressions, missed transitions, failures to follow the assignment--as the most serious errors. No paper with even a single error of those sorts would earn an A. While I do not give as much weight to grammatical and stylistic errors, at least early in the semester, when they begin to detract from my reading of your paper (I have to stop and say "huh?") they hurt your grade. See my Pet Peeves list for details.


Use your spell-check, have a dictionary handy, and use Writer's Web to check on mechanics and grammar. Always read your final draft aloud; you will catch dozens of small errors that way. Even though you might have your paper critiqued in an editing group for class, you will want to start early and make an appointment with a tutor at the Writing Center .


Exceptions are possible, and these characteristics of various papers are not carved in stone; a paper that does several things very well and one poorly might not fare as badly as one that does everything in a sloppy way:

A: Outstanding, almost flawless work; very few papers in each class earn this grade. Papers earning a grade of A must show creativity, engagement and understanding of the assignment, and, when appropriate for the assignment, critical use of sources, in print and on-line, and from transcripts of online work.


An A paper about two texts or subjects would also include a superb sense of organization--it would not simply be "two mini essays." See the Writer's Web worksheet on Multiple-Subject Papers for more information.

B: No problems with organization and would include a clear, creative thesis and strong use of sources and analysis. The essay might contain a minor error in interpretation of an idea or source. A paper might earn a B for grammatical errors that distract the reader. This paper would be original and interesting, but it would not be outstanding in the way that an A paper would be.
C: Follows the assignment , but isn't very original in doing so. The essay has a clear thesis, if the assignment calls for that. Might have several lapses in transitions between points, a few unsupported arguments, or a few sources not supported or analyzed. Still, it shows effort on the writer's part. Some C papers have strong arguments and support but have many grammatical or mechanical errors.
D or F: Normally there are one of three reasons for a paper earning a D or F.


First, the writer did not follow the assignment. Second, Any paper lacking a thesis or controlling idea, if the assignment mandated that, would probably earn a D. Third, a paper that did not support its arguments logically or with sources might earn a D, even if it were fine otherwise.


I've rarely assigned a D on the basis of grammar and style alone; normally, something has to be seriously wrong with the focus, support, and organization of a paper for it to earn a D.


An F paper is similar to a D paper, but the errors are even more pronounced or the paper is simply not completed.

How the Heck do I Break Down the Grading?

Along with my more general guidelines above, I use these areas to assign & justify the grades you get on individual papers.


Purpose & Audience

  • Completion of the assignment's question (not veering off on your own topic)
  • Attention to primary and secondary goals (questions posed, answers provided
  • Execution of correct rhetorical task (to analyze? to inform?)
  • Consideration of necessary format and length
  • Inclusion of technical details appropriate to the audience (and correctly stated)
  • Consideration of counter-arguments and alternative courses of action
  • Placement of all "interesting but secondary" material in appendices (if appropriate to the assignment)

Clarity and Coherence

  • Division of document into appropriate sections (as needed) with a clearly readable format
  • Effective use of graphics, other visual elements, warnings, notes, bullet lists and other space-saving techniques (when appropriate)
  • Connections made throughout document with clear transitions and "looking over the shoulder" at earlier sections
  • Proper citation of sources, using MLA format, for readers needing additional information
  • Use of a clear, readable style (varying sentence lengths and word choices appropriate to the context)
  • Avoidance of digressions, unneeded detail/generalizations, and too many prepositional phrases and verbs of being (see Lanham's "Paramedic Method" in Writer's Web) that obfuscate clear prose.

Grammar: not given as much emphasis as the other two areas; at UR no one should fail for grammatical mistakes alone. See my pointers above under each letter grade. I look for:

  • Careful proofreading for spelling and punctuation errors
  • Avoidance of other sentence-level errors
  • Attention given to class-specific format for paper (font sizes, spacing, and so forth)
  • Removal of all "word-processor fossils" (extra words left in from when editing, as of in this very sentence!). READ ALOUD the final draft and you will never lose points for fossils.

Extra Credit Opportunity: Do YOU Have an Eagle's Eye?

Any student finding in my assignments a clear typing, spelling, grammatical error, or a violation of my own "pet peeves" will earn an additional +/- grade on the paper with the lower grade in the project you are doing. Nothing arcane, please; split-infinitives and the like are obsolete rules.


Pbwiki has, to date, no spell checker!  That means I will hold you accountable for spelling errors--best to type it here first (to maintain a consistent font) then copy/paste to Word and check the spelling.  By the same token, you should hold me accountable for MY errors.  Find a spelling error in my blogs or wiki and you get the extra-credit bonus.


Mistakes I make in writing commentary do not count; I write that mostly in one draft, sometimes when dog-tired. The award only goes to the first person to report my mistake.


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