As you progress through Grinnell, you will find that different faculty members have different perspectives on how to grade writing and what makes a particular essay deserve a particular grade. This short document is my attempt to describe my own perspective and to prepare you for the comments and grades you will soon receive.
When I grade your essays, I look for three things: syntax, style, and substance. An ideal essay has correct syntax, elegant style, and significant substance. Normal essays tend to be adequate in all three categories. Weak essays fail to satisfy me in at least one category.
When I evaluate your syntax, I consider how well you adhere to the conventions and customs of the English language. While English is fairly malleable, there are limitations to this malleability. By staying close to conventions, you make your writing clearer and easier for your readers.
When I evaluate your style, I consider how well your essay flows. I tend to emphasize the structure of your argument and the transitions you make between parts of your essay. I also do my best to consider whether you have addressed your audience appropriately. As the semester progresses, I will also look for the various stylistic components that Williams discusses in Style.
Of course, a correct, elegant essay is nothing without some underlying substance. That is, I want to see an appropriate and interesting thesis, some good ideas, careful analysis of the texts we've read, and even a convincing argument. When I evaluate your substance, I often consider how well you've met the requirements of the assignment (if the assignment had particular requirements).
To help me evaluate your essays consistently, I will often rely on a rubric: a check-list of points to evaluate. The rubric helps me make sure that I have considered all of the appropriate points in your essay. Of course, I do not treat rubrics as limiting. I feel free to add other points even if they are not covered by the rubric at hand.
I prefer to make my comments electronically. If you email me documents, I may insert them within the document (although I am still considering whether that is appropriate). While I will give you printed comments, I will also email you a Web page containing my comments.
Like most of the faculty at Grinnell, I am a fairly strict grader. To receive above an A on an essay, you must typically excel in at least one of the latter two categories. That is, you must either have excellent ideas and express them relatively well, or have particularly eloquent prose and reasonably good ideas. In all cases, your grammar must be correct. Particularly weak grammar, ideas, or style may give you a lower grade than you or I would like.
Monday, 6 September 1999
Disclaimer Often, these pages were created "on the fly" with little, if any, proofreading. Any or all of the information on the pages may be incorrect. Please contact me if you notice errors.
This page may be found at http://www.math.grin.edu/~rebelsky/Courses/Tutorial/99F/Handouts/grading-writing.html
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