Here are the general criteria that I use for evaluating written work. Remember that grading is an inexact science. What you will find below are some very general criteria. Actual papers often do not exhibit all the strengths and weaknesses that I have associated with a particular grade below, thus particular judgments are required for each individual work. These guidelines should give you, however, some idea of how I interpret the different grades and what I expect from your papers. I hope that this help to demystify the grading process. 

Your papers will be graded based on

(a) content (strength, persuasiveness, relevance and originality of your argument) 

(b) structure (clarity of exposition and organization)

(c) use of evidence (quality and appropriateness of supporting evidence and examples)

(d) presentation, grammar and style

The overall quality of you argument/answer is the most important consideration, but writing cogency and clarity go together. Originality is great and I do encourage you to take intellectual risks in your writing, but being creative is not your primary concern. Your first and foremost concern is fulfill the requirements of the assignment and offer an argument that withstands rational scrutiny, regardless of its novelty.


Content: The paper presents a clear, easily identifiable, plausible, adequately supported, sophisticated and insightful answer(s) to the question(s). It says something novel, either an original idea or synthesis of ideas, that goes beyond the mere regurgitation of course material. The author shows a sophisticated interpretation and analysis of the issues and sources. The argument is clear, reasonable and logically flawless. The author takes into account and successfully defuses counterarguments to her thesis. The exploration of the issue is articulate and thorough. The author demonstrates an understanding of the complexity of the issue without sacrificing clarity.

Structure: The structure is clear and understandable. The paper proceeds by smooth and justified transitions from point to point. The argumentation is persuasive and graceful. The process is effective. The author speaks with a distinctive and consistent voice. The paper flows seamlessly.

Use of evidence: The main thesis and the various points are adequately supported either by interesting and appropriate examples or careful and close readings of passages from the primary texts and secondary literature. Quoted material is well integrated into the main texts. (If a short essay, quotations are kept to a minimum.) The paper shows a serious engagement with the primary texts.

Presentation and Grammar: there are minimal to no typos, spelling and punctuation errors. The grammar and diction is excellent.  Sources are cited correctly.

The Difference Between A and A-

A is reserved for truly outstanding papers. Those that move the reader by a combination of cogency of argumentation, freshness of ideas and excellence in writing. This grade is not a reward for hard work, but for originality and insight. The author in the paper has taken some intellectual risks that have paid off, rather than simply give some straightforward answer to an interpretive problem. This is a grade that must make you proud of your work.

An A- paper is an excellent paper. It is a work of high quality that goes beyond a clear restatement of the class material. It shows genuine engagement with a problem. The originality of the argument or interpretation might be offset by some minor problems in the argument or the presentation, which prevent the paper from being marked a solid A. Writing an A- paper is nonetheless a significant achievement.



Content: The discussion of the topic is promising and shows an attempt at critical comment or appraisal. It might however be slightly unclear or lack in insight or originality. It shows understanding of the material and a basic appreciation of its complexity, even if the questions are not fully engaged. Some counterarguments are successfully defused, others only acknowledged and not properly addressed. The argument is coherent, careful and logical, although at times uninspired.

Structure: The paper is generally well-structured and thoughtful. It may wander occasionally. There is a logical progression of ideas, although some transitions might be somewhat unclear and the different parts of the paper might not match up as well as they might.

Use of evidence: Examples and references to the literature are used to support most points. They might occasionally be inappropriate or unclear.

Presentation and Grammar: The paper is easily readable with at most occasional grammatical or spelling errors. The prose is effective at communicating the main ideas of the paper. Word choice is accurate and precise.  Sources are cited although sometimes incorrectly.

 The Difference Between B+ and B

A B+ paper is a very good paper. It is a clear, well-written and well-argued paper. There might be some minor flaws or ambiguities, but they do not detract from the readability and cogency of the paper. Anyone putting a serious effort in thinking about the material and learning how to write an essay should be able to achieve this grade.

A B+ paper shows more promise and originality than a B paper, but it does not stand out in the way in which an A- paper does. Often the author understands the class or source material well, but does not add much to it. Or she might not have fully or convincingly developed her original insight.

A B paper is a solid and competent paper, with no serious mistakes and misunderstandings. It is crucial to a B paper that it shows engagement with the issues raised in the question(s).



Content: The paper is competent but predictable. It merely summarizes or paraphrases the course/source material, but no in-depth analysis. Shows a basic understanding of the material, but there might be serious mistakes in the argument. Or the paper makes only a minimal attempt at engaging the issues raised in the questions(s). Answers may be proposed, but the author does not consider alternative responses to, or does not defend answers even against the most obvious counter-arguments.

Structure: The paper is unclear. Transitions are few or weak. The paper sometimes jumps around. The structure of the paper is not straightforward. The introduction, development and conclusion of the paper do not match up very well.

Use of evidence: Use of adequate supporting evidence or examples is limited. Examples might be unclear, evidence inappropriate. Quotes may be long (especially in short papers), poorly integrated or left unanalyzed. The author might seriously misinterpret the work of others or give only a cursory reading of it.

Presentation and Grammar: There are several grammatical and spelling errors. The writing is still comprehensible, but understanding the paper might require effort on the readerís part.  Citation problems.

The Difference Between B- and C

Papers that fall under this category are acceptable, but show problems that need to be addressed. Problems become more serious in the case of a C paper. The structure and the writing are particularly unclear. There are serious misunderstanding of the issue or logical mistakes in the argument. The paper, however, shows some effort.

Do not be discouraged if you get a B- or C grade on your first paper. The ability to write a good essay does not come naturally, it has to be learned. If you make a serious effort at acquiring it, you will see significant improvement in the quality of your writing during the semester.



If you wrote a paper that falls in this category, something is wrong. The paper has some rather serious flaws (the more serious or the more numerous, the lower the grade, of course). Do not worry, however, is unlikely that your paper has all of these problem. You must therefore make a point of seeing me to receive individual advice on how to improve your writing.

Content: The argument is inconsistent, vague and unimaginative. The argument might be very hard to identify. Or the paper just strings together related ideas, but does not attempt to organize them in the form of an argument. The paper just summarizes or narrates, but does not answer the questions or fulfill the requirements of the assignment..

 Structure: Unclear, often because argument/answers are weak or non-existent. Transitions are confusing or non-existent. The paper lacks unity or organization.

 Use of evidence: Evidence and examples are not used, or used inappropriately and/or ineffectively. Primary and secondary sources are seriously misinterpreted. There is a general failure to support statements, or evidence seems to support no statement.

 Presentation: Serious problems in sentence structure, grammar, diction, punctuation and spelling to the point of interfering with the understanding of the prose and frustrating the reader.  Borderline (very close to) plagiarism.


Papers that have one or more of the following problems: