Grading Standards for Papers
(What do Eriks Want?)

What Should Papers Do?

Iíll be giving more detail about my standards below, but the broad questions that cover most of what concerns me are these:
  1. What problem or connection have you analyzed?
  2. Why did you analyze it?
  3. What does your analysis reveal that most readers couldnít see before?
  4. What specific points in the text(s) lead you to these conclusions?
Good papers will provide strong answers to all of these questions, and they will help readers understand those answers by providing specific quoted evidence and organizing it carefully.

The questions may be simple, but they are not easy. They are meant to challenge you to produce interesting and important work. By working towards the portfolio at the end of the term, the course acknowledges the difficulty of writing essays that truly transform the vision of a reader. Therefore, the process of consultation (with me, your classmates, and others) and revision will occupy a central place in our thinking as the term goes on.

How does that translate into grading?

The second page of this handout provides a chart giving a rough profile of an "A" paper, a "B" paper, and so on. Although I generally dislike grading because it can sometimes end conversation about a paper rather than spurring it, I recognize its importance and I do not give grades lightly. As you know, the only paper grade that counts is the one that goes on the final version in the portfolio.

Can grades be changed after Erik gives them?

Unless I have made a mathematical error, grades are non-negotiable. I will always be happy to explain the rationale for a grade in detail, however.

What does a paper of each grade look like?

Grade Argument Organization Evidence Grammar/Mechanics
A The paper knows what it wants to say and why it wants to say it. It goes beyond pointing out comparisons to using them to change the readerís vision. Every paragraph supports the main argument in a coherent way, and clear transitions point out why each new paragraph follows the previous one. Concrete examples from texts support general points about how those texts work. The paper provides the source and significance of each piece of evidence. The paper uses correct spelling and punctuation. In short, it generally exhibits a good command of academic prose.
B A) The paper has a solid, consistent focus, but it doesnít quite know why it does what it does.
B) The paper includes some imaginative ideas that hint at a convincing and important argument, but they are not yet working consistently as an argument.
The paper as a whole works in a logical way, but the paragraphs within it do not always follow a consistent logic. Some paragraphs do not offer a reason why they appear where they do. The paper offers a mix of solid evidence and unsupported generalizations. It uses most evidence well, but the paper needs some more or needs to clarify the significance of some of what is already there. The paper contains occasional but limited errors in syntax, agreement, pronoun reference, and/or punctuation.
C The paper replaces an argument with a topic, giving a series of related observations without suggesting a logic for their presentation or a reason for presenting them. The observations of the paper are listed rather than organized. Often, this is a symptom of a problem in argument, as the framing of the paper has not provided a path for evidence to follow. The paper offers very little concrete evidence, instead relying on plot summary or generalities to talk about a text. If concrete evidence is present, its origin or significance is not clear. The paper contains frequent errors in syntax, agreement, pronoun reference, and/or punctuation.
D The paper lacks even a consistent topic, providing a series of largely unrelated observations. The observations are listed rather than organized, and some of them do not appear to belong in the paper at all. The paper offers no concrete evidence from the texts or misuses a little evidence. It does still try to talk about texts, though. The paper contains consistent and basic errors in syntax, agreement, reference, spelling, and/or punctuation.
F The paper shows little sign of even attempting an analysis of text. The paper loses the reader. Both paper and paragraphs lack coherence. The paper uses plagiarized or inapplicable evidence. The paper contains constant and glaring mechanical errors.