Student Writing Assessment

First-Year Writing

Essay Criteria for ENWR 105 & ENWR 106

The following criteria describe the primary standards according to which essays for the First-Year Writing Program are evaluated.  These criteria also provide students with a means of understanding their own writing strengths and weaknesses.  Thus, for example, a student who understands that a particular essay is marked by clarity of prose and significant strengths in analysis, but fails to maintain and develop one main point will have an easier time figuring out how to better approach the next assignment. 

Individual instructors may present these standards in slightly different language, and their comments on student work may not address every item on this list. 

Central Claim

The central claim (also called thesis or main point) guides both writer and readers. This central claim should be reflected—sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly—in each paragraph of a successful essay.  A good central claim is not obvious; it is debatable, worthy of discussion.
A successful essay is rich with examples, evidence, and discussion.  The writer develops—substantiates, explains, and illustrates—all of his or her points. 

A successful essay is one that is organized clearly and logically.  A well-organized essay provides readers with an engaging opening, well-constructed paragraphs, appropriate transitional cues between paragraphs and sections, and a satisfying ending. 

A successful essay demonstrates analysis, when the writer is thinking on the page.  It consists of the moments when the writer connects evidence to a central claim through logic and careful reflection.  Analysis is evident when a writer connects one piece of evidence with a larger phenomenon or theorizes about a specific quality.  Analysis is asking and addressing questions.  Analysis is discussion.

Clarity of Prose 
A successful essay is characterized by clarity of prose, which comes not only from demonstrated mastery of English grammar, usage, and mechanics but also from careful proofreading.  Clarity is further enhanced through elegant, well-constructed sentences.

Grading Benchmarks for ENWR 105 & 106

For ENWR 100 Grading Benchmarks click here.

Essay Grades: A, B, C, D, and F Papers

*A* papers present powerful, engaging arguments and central claims.  In an A paper, the reader is clear as to the writer’s central claim, yet the claim is appropriately complex and sophisticated, as well as well supported by compelling evidence, logical reasoning, and analysis.  The essay is highly readable because it is organized for the reader’s ease of understanding, and the paragraphs and sentences are clearly, and even elegantly, written.

*B* papers present strong central claims and arguments that are well supported with evidence, logic, and analysis.  For a B paper, the essay is organized appropriately, and the prose is clear—though it may not be elegant.

*C* papers present central claims and arguments that a reader can follow but that may be only partially supported by evidence and examples.  For a C paper, organization or analysis may be weak, suggesting that significant revision is needed.  The prose is generally readable, although sentences are not always clear, and errors are sometimes distracting.

*D* papers are either unsuccessful in presenting central claims and arguments, or present arguments that are essentially unsupported.  D papers may vary in length, but the paragraphs are frequently organized in a way that confuses rather than guides readers.  Papers that are written in prose that is confusing will receive D’s—though not all D papers will be marked by confusing prose.

*F* papers are unsuccessful in presenting and supporting arguments, either because they contain no central claims, and if they do, they are poorly developed; or because they are organized or written in such a confusing manner that their arguments are not accessible to readers.

Grading Benchmarks for ENWR 100

*A* papers present strong central claims and arguments that are well supported with evidence, logic, and analysis. The paper is engaging and the argument is sufficiently developed, with a strong sense of purpose, though in one or more criteria the essay may benefit from improvement. For an A paper, the essay is organized reasonably, and the prose is clear—though it may not be consistently elegant, and non?standard English may be present.

*B* papers present central claims and arguments that a reader can follow, are typically organized through adequately developed supporting paragraphs, and are essentially clear. The claim may be general or not fully supported, and the analysis is often incomplete, but not absent. Occasional problems with the full development of ideas, organization or transitions may be evident. The prose is generally readable, although sentences are not always clear. Errors are sometimes distracting, and some usage errors may be present.

*C* papers successfully establish and support basic central claims within a structure and prose style appropriate for the assignment. However, a C paper frequently has a central claim that may be vague, overly general (or overly specific), or which may be weakly supported. Essay organization is functional but often not ideal, with areas of repetition, weak transitions, and/or overly simple first and concluding paragraphs. Analysis may be simplistic or limited. The clarity of the prose may break down, with occasional unclear sentences, although meaning is conveyed overall. Second language or vernacular attributes may be apparent and distracting, but they do not significantly impact meaning.

*D* papers are either missing central claims or they are essentially unsupported. D papers are typically organized in a confusing manner; there is not a clear sense of rationale for paragraphing, order, or material presented. Supporting claims, paragraphs, and analysis do not serve to further the primary aims of the essay, though there are often strong moments within the essay. Clarity of prose is often weak to the point where meaning is not clear.

*F* papers demonstrate failure to successfully engage with the assignment or writing task. In F papers the writer may not have addressed the assignment in terms of content, length, deadlines, or other requirements.

Sample Benchmark Papers

Below are sample graded papers from first-year writing classes at MSU.  These papers were all written by actual first-year students who signed consent forms to have these papers (anonymously) shared with other teachers.  In each case the contributing professor and I agreed on grades before presenting these papers, ungraded, to first-year faculty in workshops in which participants were asked to rank the papers from one to four, and then later to apply grades.  By and large, faculty agreed on the grading, with greatest disagreement over the lowest (C and D) papers.  Few thought these were strong, but there was some agreement as to which merited a C and which merited a D. 

Please note that these papers are for teacher use onlyDo not duplicate and share with students as model papers.

Sample ENWR 100 (from Fall 2010)
Sample A Paper
Sample B Paper
Sample D Paper

Sample ENWR 105 (from Fall 2011)
Sample A Paper
Sample B Paper
Sample C Paper

Sample ENWR 106 (from Spring 2006)
Sample A Paper
Sample B Paper
Sample C Paper
Sample D Paper