English Department Guidelines for Grading

An “A” paper:

  • Conveys immediately a sense of person behind the words: an individual voice speaking firmly and clearly from the page.
  • The writing is informative and thoughtful. Examples or comparisons are carefully chosen. Occasionally there is a vivid image or deft comparison.
  • The writer demonstrates an appropriate sense of critical strategies and theoretical issues raised by the essay, using vocabulary and a conceptual framework consistent with the level of the course.
  • Organization of material is smooth and logical. The reader does not stumble or hesitate over the sequence of facts or ideas.
  • Sentences are varied, with rhythm and emphasis appropriate to the meaning. Phrasing is often fluent, even graceful. Sentences read well aloud.
  • Word choices are accurate and sensitive to connotations.
  • Punctuation is appropriate and helpful to the reader.
  • There are very few mechanical errors [grammar or spelling].
  • Sources are carefully chosen and consistently cited, and research is documented.

While “A” papers are not necessarily flawless, they do reflect writers who are in full control of their material and language.

A “B” paper:

  • Content is reasonably sound, but may be a little thin. Examples or illustrations may be slightly forced or exaggerated.
  • Organization is clear, and the reader does not stumble over sequence.
  • Word choices are workable and clear, though they may lack strength.
  • Punctuation is generally correct, though sentences may be pedestrian and occasionally awkward and wordy.
  • Any mechanical errors [grammar or spelling] are minor and do not interfere with the flow of the argument of the intellectual focus of the paper.
  • Sources are correctly cited, but the research element is less engaged than in an “A” paper: it does little to extend the work beyond basic understanding.

A “C” paper:

  • Lacks engagement and is characterized by insufficiently developed thought.
  • Information and ideas may be adequate, but are thin or unconvincing.
  • Organization may occasionally be unclear, causing the reader to stop and re-read previous material to be sure of meaning.
  • Sentences may have little or no structural variety, and may be awkwardly placed.
  • The writer may mention or reveal theoretical or critical apparatus, but has trouble applying such external ideas to the particular assignment.
  • Diction may be characterized by wordiness, clichés, or poor word choices. Unnecessary words and phrases make the writing loose.
  • There may be several mechanical errors: grammar (such as fragments, run-on or fused sentences, subject/verb agreement problems, comma splices, reference errors) spelling, and punctuation errors hinder the reader’s ability to follow the argument easily, and demand editorial correction before sense can be made.

A “C” paper is adequate. However, it gives the reader an impression of lack of care and assurance by the writer. The readers have to work to understand what they are reading.

A “D” paper:

  • Gives a main impression of haste, carelessness, lack of attention, or simply of inability to craft direct or even simple sentences.
  • The paper is barely adequate.
  • Sources are poorly chosen, inadequate, or not fully documented.
  • The paper may make some sense, but only when the reader struggles to find the sense. Writers of “D” papers have little control of their material.
  • The paper demonstrates little evident ability to focus on or analyse specific arguments or cultural productions, and there is little if any sense of a theoretical strategy with which to approach the assignment, nor of a critical understanding of issues raised by the particular topic.
  • There are many mechanical and grammatical errors which undermine the writer’s attempt to articulate and structure the assignment adequately. These errors overwhelm readers’ ability to make sense of the writing, and demand to be addressed before any dialogue about the content of the assignment can begin.

A “D” paper is barely adequate.

An “F” paper suggests incomplete understanding of the assignment and of the assigned readings (if there were any) for this particular writing project. Its lack of clarity–at the levels of grammar, mechanics, editing, structure and content–suggests a failure to address the particular assignment with adequate intellectual rigour and planning. Furthermore, an individual writing problem itself can be severe enough to merit failure in a given assignment.

[Acknowledgements: Brenda Sully, Department of English at Vancouver Island University; Roger Garrison and Pamela Marks, of the Department of English at the University of Maine; the Standards Committee of the English Department at Vancouver Island University.]

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