Grading Criteria for Writing Assignments

When I return your written work to you, you will see that in addition to the editing marks I use to draw your attention to problems in the language, I use a system of check marks and letter grades to appraise your performance on the assignment and give you feedback on how to improve.

Check Marks

On your short essays you will see a set of three check marks that represent my appraisal of your writing in three areas: language accuracy (how well you command the English language), writing skills (how well you express your ideas), and formatting and presentation (how well you format your document -- and later in the course this will include formatting of citations and reference lists.)

Language accuracy



The grammar is almost all accurate, and expressions are almost all idiomatic. There are few or no problems with the language itself that distract the reader from the writer's ideas.



There are a fair number of grammatical problems and/or unidiomatic expressions. These are frequent enough or significant enough to distract the reader from the writer's ideas.  



There are so many grammatical problems and/or unidiomatic expressions that it becomes difficult for the reader to understand the writer's ideas.

Writing Skills 



The ideas are interesting, and they are clearly and compellingly expressed. This is a memorable piece of writing that told me something new and made me think.



The ideas are interesting but could be more compellingly expressed; or the ideas are clearly expressed but lack depth or interest. The writing met my expectations for the assignment but wasn't a very memorable read.



The writing is garbled: poorly organized and/or difficult to understand. Problems in communicating the ideas make this difficult to read.

Formatting and presentation

(if applicable, includes citations and reference list)



A clean, professionally formatted document. Nothing distracts the reader from the writing.



A decent-looking document with one or more problems that distract the reader from the writing itself.



A sloppily formatted document that conveys an attitude of carelessness and lack of professionalism.

Letter Grades

On your term papers you will also see a letter grade. The letter grade is an overall appraisal of your performance on this assignment, and (usually) corresponds to the number of checks, check-pluses, and check-minuses you received in the areas above.

"A Range"

This is a very good piece of writing. Bravo!


✓+  ✓+  ✓+

A superb piece of writing. There are no problems with the language or the writing that are significant enough to distract me from your ideas themselves. I read the paper with genuine pleasure and interest, as I would read a piece of published writing.


✓+  ✓+  ✓+

A very good piece of writing. But one or more small problems distract me from engaging with your ideas. 

Note: You must get 3 check-pluses to receive a grade in the "A range," but whether you get an A or an A- is a matter of my own discretion. 

"B Range"

This is a promising piece of writing, but there are a number of problems with it (or one significant problem) that distracts me from engaging with your ideas. 

and / or:  This is a competent but unmemorable piece of writing. You need to "dig deeper" and develop your ideas more.


✓+  ✓+  ✓ or ✓+  ✓ ✓


✓   ✓   ✓   or   ✓+  ✓+  ✓- 


✓+  ✓   ✓-  or   ✓   ✓   ✓-  

"C Range"

This piece of writing has a lot of problems -- you have a great deal of work to do! Significant parts of it may be difficult to understand or to follow, or you may not have adequately completed an important requirement of the assignment.

or: You seem to be just "going through the motions." There's little in the way of original thinking going on here.


✓+  ✓-  ✓-   


✓   ✓-  ✓-


✓-  ✓-  ✓-


The assignment is off-topic, and/or incomplete, and/or mostly impossible to understand.


The assignment is blatantly plagiarized.