Student Writing Assessment

Essay Criteria

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 to you in slightly different language, and their comments on your 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

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.