How I Assign Letter Grades
by H. Shaw, Cornell
I first ask myself the following questions:
- Has the writer stated a thesis/main claim?
- Does the thesis address itself to an appropriate question or topic?
- Has the writer used evidence as support for analysis, or are there long stretches of quotation or other evidence left unanalyzed?
- Has the writer used complete sentences and avoided grammatical errors?
If the answer to any of these is “no,” I give the paper some kind of C.
If the answer to most of the questions is “no,” the grade will be lower.
For papers that emerge unscathed, I add the following questions:
- How thoughtful is the paper? Does it show originality of thinking?
- How adequate is the thesis/main claim? Does it respond to the question in a full and interesting way? Does it have an appropriate degree of complexity?
- How well organized is the paper? Does it stick to the point? Does every paragraph contain a clear topic sentence? If not, is another kind of organizing principle used? Are needed transitions present? Does the paper have a real conclusion, not simply a stopping place?
- Is the writing efficient, not wordy or unclear?
- Is the writing elegant?
- Do I hear a lively, intelligent, interesting human voice speak as I read the paper?
Depending on my answers to such questions, I give the paper some kind of A or B.
Shaw, Harry. “Responding to Student Essays.” F.V.Bogel and K.Gottschalk (eds.). Teaching Prose: A Guide for Writing Instructors. New York: Norton. 1984. Print.