department of english

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Grading Criteria


Plagiarism and academic irregularity

Issues of academic irregularity such as plagiarism supersede these criteria; any work that has been plagiarized in whole or in part will result in a failing grade for the course as a whole and a notation of academic irregularity on the student’s transcript.

Not passing

NOTE: Papers that are not passing may exhibit many of the characteristics described by the criteria below. However, papers that have any one of the following elements cannot pass: no argument, no attention to the assignment, or egregious error to the degree that meaning is severely impeded.


Not Passing papers have little or no sense of argument, thesis, position or purpose, thus suggesting that the student is unable to think critically in relation to the readings or unable to reproduce that critical thinking in writing. Specifically:

  • The paper does not address the prompt
  • The paper contains no clear argument
  • The paper contains a narrative instead of expository essay


Not Passing papers generally avoid close engagement with the readings; what engagement there is might suggest significant misreading. In other words, the use of text suggests that the student is unable to read critically or unable to connect critical reading to independent and original thinking. Specifically:

  • The paper includes no textual support, no quotation at all
  • The paper includes textual support, but indicates a misreading or haphazard reading of the text
  • The paper includes quotation or summary but fails to use it to support any argument
  • The paper has so many quotations that it seems the student is using quotation and summary to “write” the paper instead of providing his or her own analysis
  • When research is required, the sources may be inappropriate for the assignment, non-scholarly when scholarly sources are required, or contradictory within the context of the paper.  


Not Passing papers often have serious problems with organization, reflected either in a failure to meet minimum requirements for length or in a level of disconnection that hinders the comprehension of the reader. Specifically:

  • The paper is not sufficiently developed and often will therefore not meet minimum length requirements
  • In the paper, there is no clear relationship between the paragraphs, the ideas expressed, the quotations used, or the summaries presented
  • The paper has no clear pattern of organization, thus impeding meaning and comprehension


  • The paper adopts an inappropriate tone by using slang, informal English, or nonacademic prose
  • The paper shows little or no awareness of the reader’s need for contextual information.



Not Passing papers pay little attention to issues of grammar, language, and presentation. At times, this will reflect serious language concerns in a student; however, it may also reflect severe carelessness on the part of the student. Specifically:

  • The paper contains grammatical errors that impede meaning, including repeated significant errors (subject/verb agreement, sentence boundary issues) and/or convoluted syntax that makes it difficult to understand what the student is trying to say
  • The paper shows that the student made little or no attempt to conform to
  • MLA rules of documentation


C range (C or C+)

Note: C- papers are not passing; however, the use of C- is often intended to indicate that a student has progressed significantly or is producing work that is almost but not quite passing.


“C” or “C+” papers show that the student can articulate a position in relation to a set of readings. That articulation—which we might variously call the paper’s argument, thesis, or project—represents the start of critical thinking. Specifically:

  • The paper addresses the prompt
  • The paper has an argument, even though that argument may not be stated in the introduction or may not ever be stated clearly
  • In C+ papers, the argument is stated clearly but reflects only what was
  • discussed in class, thus showing no original thought


“C” or “C+” papers demonstrate that students are acquiring skills with critical reading, reflected through their ability to work with texts in support of their position. Specifically:

  • The paper has quotations that relate to the topic and argument, but the relationship is often not explained
  • Particularly for low-level C paper, the paper has some quotations that do not support (and may even contradict) the assertions made in the paper
  • Particularly for C+ papers, the paper has original ideas, but these ideas tend to be dropped or repeated rather than developed
  • In assignments that ask students to work with more than one text, the paper provides quotations from all required texts, but uses them in isolation, hence weakening the connection between the ideas of those two authors
  • When research is required, the sources used are mostly appropriate for the assignment and/or scholarly, but they may result in repetition of facts and ideas within the paper rather than depth of thought or variety of perspective.


“C” or “C+” papers have a basic sense of organization; that is, the student substantially controls the shape of the paper, though some areas may interrupt the flow of the paper. Specifically:

  • The paper includes leaps in logic and expects readers to follow implicit patterns of thought
  • The paper may have some paragraphs that include unrelated ideas and lose argumentative focus
  • The paper offers no link between the ideas expressed in each individual paragraph; transitions between paragraphs are non-existent or forced
  • The introduction and conclusion are often formulaic; that is they do not seem uniquely connected to the body paragraphs
  • Particularly in C+ papers, the order of some paragraphs could be changed without changing what the paper is saying


  • The paper adopts an appropriate tone, but may sometimes lapse into slang, informal English, or nonacademic prose
  • The paper shows some awareness of the reader’s need for contextual information


“C” or “C+” papers reflect less skills with language and presentation. Though errors remain, there is clear evidence that the student is working to improve these issues. Specifically:

  • The paper may show patterns of error, but these errors generally do not impede meaning; they may instead represent errors such as article usage, punctuation, or missing words
  • The paper attempts to follow rules of MLA documentation, but errors or omissions are evident


B range (B-, B, B+)


B-, B, B+ papers have all the elements of papers in the “C” range and have most of these additional elements as well


“B-,” “B,” and “B+” papers show the student performing solid and original critical thinking, reflected in a clearly stated position (argument, thesis, project) that is in some way original, moving beyond class discussion. Specifically:

  • The paper has an argument that shows some originality by expressing ideas that were not expressed in class
  • The paper’s purpose is clearly, authoritatively stated from the beginning; that is, it is possible to identify a sentence or group of sentences that contain the purpose or project of the paper
  • The paper has an argument that moves beyond what the readings have said while also clearly engaging with the readings
  • The paper has an argument that avoids absolute claims (with terms like “all,” “never,” “always”) and that acknowledges its limits
  • B+ papers tend to have particularly original, thoughtful, or authoritative arguments


“B-,” “B,” and “B+” papers demonstrate that the student is increasingly comfortable with the text, as shown by an ability to use close textual engagement in support of the argument; B+ papers, in addition, show a kind of authority in relation to the text or a particularly original or insightful reading. Specifically:

  • For B- papers, the paper has clear connections between two or more texts, but more development may be needed to show how those connections support the argument
  • Although all paragraphs provide support the argument, they still include more summary of the text than analysis
  • The paper contains quotations that clearly support the argument, and the student is able to explain the how those quotations provide that support; however, the use of quotation and accompanying explanation may be repetitive throughout the paper
  • Quotation is used in a way that demonstrates thorough understanding of text
  • The paper may, however, avoid possible counter-arguments; portions of the texts that may not support (or may completely go against) the argument are avoided
  • When research is required, the sources are strong and varied in relation to the requirements of the assignment. Their use in the paper displays depth of thought, including a diversity of perspectives about the topic, which may include counter arguments as appropriate. However, the incorporation of the outside information may lack cohesion with the paper’s argument or purpose.


“B-,” “B,” and “B+” papers have solid organization. That is, there is a clear order to the paper even if some transitions are rough or missing. B+ papers tend to have an especially strong, fluid, or complex organization that may fall short in one or two moments. Specifically:

  • The paper’s paragraphs follow a logical order, building on each other as the argument unfolds
  • There is an attempt made at transitions between paragraphs, even if some of these transitions are rough, awkward, or implicit
  • The introduction clearly sets forth what the body paragraphs will accomplish
  • The conclusion states the implications of what the body paragraphs have accomplished (answers the question “so what?”), though it may lapse into partial restatement of the introduction



  • The paper adopts an appropriate tone by avoiding slang, informal English, or nonacademic prose
  • The paper shows a consistent awareness of contextual information needed by readers both inside and outside the class


“B-,” “B,” and “B+” papers show the student attaining increased control over problems of presentation and language. Specifically:

  • There is clear evidence that the paper has been proofread and that patterns of error have been addressed, resulting in infrequent error (typographical or grammatical)
  • Paper adheres to MLA style and quotations are properly documented


A range (A-, A)

“A-“ and “A” papers have all the elements of papers in the “B” range and have these additional elements as well.


“A-“ and “A” papers demonstrate strong critical thinking. The student is able to respond to the readings and to the assignment with originality and authority. Specifically:

  • The paper presents an original and compelling argument that addresses the prompt fully and avoids absolute claims
  • The argument is aware of its underlying assumptions and acknowledges its limits
  • The argument is stated with such authority that the order of its statements and the linkages between them seem inevitable



“A-“ and “A” papers reflect the student’s depth of critical reading. Rather than being subject to the texts and their authors, the student begins to assume more and more authority in relation to these texts, both through insightful analysis and through deft use of quotation in support of the argument. Specifically:

  • The paper works closely with quotation in multiple ways; it connects quotations from different essays within a paragraph in unique and fluid ways and/or returns to the language of a quotation in the analysis of another quotation or reading
  • Quotations are introduced, discussed, clearly related to the argument, and properly cited.
  • Quotations are incorporated seamlessly into grammatically correct sentences (that is, the sentence that includes a quotation works grammatically even with the quotation marks removed)
  • The paper considers and responds to possible counter-arguments
  • When research is required, the sources used are strongly fitting in relation to the assignment and the paper’s purpose. Their use in the paper displays depth of thought, including a diversity of perspectives about the topic, which may include counter arguments as appropriate. The sources are seamlessly incorporated, adding nuance to the paper without distracting from the paper’s unique argument.


  • Paragraphs contain well-developed subtopics; they have enough information to stand alone but also relate to each other in that they all support the argument
  • Transitions between paragraphs are not forced or confusing. The next paragraph always seems like the next logical step to take to support the argument
  • Conclusion draws from the main ideas of the essay and opens up new ideas for further research/development


  • The paper inspires confidence in the audience, addresses significant issues, and leaves the reader with the sense of having learned something
  • The paper anticipates the audience’s questions and needs for contextual information



  • The paper is virtually free of grammatical and typographical errors
  • The paper adheres to MLA style




 Last Modified 5/22/14