Grading Rubric
for Analytical Papers

Teaching Assistant: Patrick Mooney
English 150
Fall 2013


I expect that your paper will articulate and respond to a specific question. Professor Duffy is not assigning specific topics for your paper this quarter, so you will need to develop and investigate your own topic; you are absolutely welcome to speak with me about your topic before you begin working on it, or at any stage of the research or writing process. Your paper must represent your own original work; any borrowings from anyone else's language or thought require proper academic attribution. Your paper should conform to the MLA standard for academic papers in the humanities.

Your paper should consist of a response to a specific question, rather than a general exploration of a set of ideas. Most likely, if you are on task, you will argue that a specific, particular idea is correct (or incorrect), and should relate your argument to specific points in the text(s) with which you are working. Your paper should be analytical in nature, rather than simply expository, and should elucidate some aspect of the text(s) with which you are working, rather than simply cataloging your responses to it (or them).

Always retain a copy of your paper until you have received a final grade for the quarter. Never give me the only copy of an assignment that you have put work into.

Failure to turn in your paper by the beginning of lecture on the due date will result in a reduction of one-third of a letter grade per day (an A- becomes a B+ if between zero and one days late) unless you have either made arrangements with me (at least 24 hours in advance) or have a genuinely serious and unavoidable emergency (family death, serious injury, natural disaster, etc.). If you turn in a late paper, you should put a printed copy in my box in the English Department mail room (South Hall 3421) as soon as possible, and should email me immediately afterwards to make sure that I see it promptly (and therefore limit your late penalty to the date on which it was actually turned in). You must turn in a printed copy of your paper; I do not accept electronic copies except in genuinely extraordinary circumstances.

I do not accept work after the final exam except in genuinely extraordinary circumstances. One implication of this policy is that failing to turn in a paper within this deadline guarantees that you will receive a non-passing grade for the course, as it is necessary to complete all assignments in a timely fashion in order to receive a passing grade.

Technology problems are not normally an acceptable excuse for late work. It is not safe to assume that your equipment will automatically continue to be reliable throughout a writing process. Let's face it: technology breaks. Batteries die, power cords fray, hard drives crash, printers break or run out of ink, network connections go down, files become corrupt. These are not considered emergencies: in our technologically oriented society, they are part of the normal production process. You need to protect yourself by managing your time and backing up your work. (If you need suggestions about how you can do this effectively, please let me know! I am happy to discuss this with you.)

Length requirements on papers are "bright lines" that you either cross or do not cross. Getting close is not good enough. Professor Duffy's syllabus specifies that your paper must be eight to ten pages long; this means that you must at least eight full pages. Falling short — even by one line — will incur a heavy penalty of four-thirds of a letter grade.

I am available after lecture, during my office hours, and by email to answer questions that you may have about any of these requirements. I do not perform pre-evaluations of drafts, but would be happy to discuss specific questions, talk about outlines, or help you with issues that arise as you go through the writing process. Please realize that I am likely to receive many emails shortly before each paper is due, and that (although I will respond as quickly as possible) it is unwise to email me at the absolute last minute and expect an immediate reply.

Specific meanings of grades

The grade that your paper receives is based on which of the following categories best describe it:

A-range papers: Papers in this range provide a genuine illumination of both the broader issues of the course and the specific text or texts with which they engage by (among other things) providing a nuanced reading of those texts. Rather than simply instantiating an argument from lecture or section in another format, an A-range paper takes interpretive risks and demonstrates a payoff for those risks.

A+: In addition to displaying all of the virtues of an A paper, an A+ paper is wonderful in every imaginable way.

A: Answers the question fully by providing a nuanced reading of the text(s) involved and articulating a solid understanding of them. An A paper goes beyond the interpretations articulated in lecture and section to make a contribution to "our" understanding of the topic as a whole. An A paper will anticipate and head off potential major objections to its interpretation of the text in such a way as to convince the reader that its textual interpretation is solid and reasonable in addition to being perceptive. Grammatical and usage errors are nonexistent, or very very very close (and, if they exist, are minor: they do not affect the reader's ability to understand and appreciate any aspect of the paper). The paper conforms in all ways to the MLA standard for academic papers in the humanities, or deviates only rarely, and only on genuinely tiny matters.

A-: Answers the question fully. Demonstrates a solid understanding of the text(s) involved and their relationship to the major thematic issues of the course. Provides a genuine contribution in the manner of an A paper, although it often does not fully resolve all of the difficulties involved. Still, an A- paper demonstrates a solid, perceptive, non-trivial illumination of genuine issues in relation to its topic and the broader themes with which the course is concerned. Grammar and usage errors, if any, are very rare and do not impede the reader's ability to appreciate the argument in any way. Conforms in all substantial ways to the MLA standard for academic papers.

B-range papers: Papers in this range illustrate that the writer has a generally firm understanding of the ideas and texts involved in the paper, and is able to put together an argument supporting his/her ideas, but may not fully articulate that argument in a comprehensive and entirely satisfying way, or may not be digging deep enough into the material to provide genuine illumination in the manner of an A-range paper. In some cases, the paper-writer may be confused on some relatively minor point(s) of interpretation or relevance. Grammar, mechanics, and structure are generally good, but may show occasional minor problems.

B+: Answers the question entirely and demonstrates that the writer has a clear and solid understanding of the text(s) involved. Makes a solid connection between textual material and the writer's argument in a relevant and engaging way. Goes beyond interpretations offered in lecture and section to advance an original line of thought, although this argument may not be tied to the text(s) involved as closely as it could be, or the argument may not be articulated with sufficient depth or specificity. Often, B+ papers take risks in the manner of A-range papers, but without pushing their interpretive insights far enough (or in a sufficiently solid manner) to fully demonstrate solid payoffs for those risks in the manner that an A-range paper does.

B: Answers all or nearly all of the question. Demonstrates that the writer has a clear and solid understanding of the text(s) and issues involved, although that understanding may not be exhaustively articulated in the paper itself. May be shaky on (relatively) minor points of interpretation. Still, there is a clear argumentative thread, and an honest (and mostly successful) attempt to ground that argument in the text(s) with which the writer engages. Grammar and mechanics are mostly solid, although there may be rare and/or minor problems.

Note: Papers with substantial deviations from the MLA standard cannot receive a grade higher than a B, regardless of the quality of the paper in other respects. Things that I consider to be substantial deviations from the MLA standard include, but are not limited to: absence of a proper Works Cited page; any non-trivial citation problem; incorrectly sized margins or font; use of an inappropriate typeface (if in doubt, use Times New Roman); turning in a paper that is not double-spaced; allowing your word processor to add extra space at the end of paragraphs. If your word processor fails to conform to the MLA standard by default, you must ensure that you override the defaults and produce a paper that is formatted correctly. Of course, the ultimate guide and final arbiter for questions relating to MLA style is the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, Seventh Edition; there is also a sample paper available from the section website that illustrates correct formatting according to the MLA standard and has notes on areas in which students commonly make errors, which you may also find helpful.

I also consider lack of proper MLA-style citations for quotations and the ideas of others to be a substantial deviation from the MLA standard (even if another format is followed, or the MLA format is followed in a substantially improper manner), and even minor problems in this regard can restrict your maximum possible grade to a B. Note also that serious problems may lower your grade further, and that the complete absence of a necessary citation may constitute plagiarism.

B-: Answers most of the question, but leaves important points of the question unconsidered or otherwise unresolved. Generally articulates important course themes and makes some attempt to connect specific passages in the text(s) with the questions on the paper prompt, but in a way that is not entirely satisfying and/or convincing. Writing and structure may be elementary and/or not effectively support the writer's argument. Often, there is no genuine contribution to the overall understanding of the topic. Grammar and mechanics may exhibit some occasional problems, although none substantial enough to impede an understanding of the essay.

C-range papers: These papers address the text(s) involved, but neglect to address core issues related to the question and/or have substantial problems with their interpretative or other basic methodological approaches. The writer may have significant points of confusion regarding the text(s) with which he or she is working, may be performing an analysis whose relevance is questionable, and/or may make other types of significant interpretive missteps. One of the more common problems with papers in this range is that they do not sufficiently examine the presuppositions that the writer makes, or play too much on interpretations that the writer considers obvious. In some cases, writers of papers in this range do not make satisfying connections between their argument and the text(s) with which they are working. In other cases, writers of C-range papers do not draw a clear line between analysis and the expression of personal likes/dislikes. Despite these problems, the paper is engaged with the material, and demonstrates some grasp of basic issues. Writing may have persistent problems with grammar or structure that are annoying for the reader and/or make interpretation difficult in a few places, though never seriously enough to make the paper's overall point(s) unintelligible.

C+: This is the highest grade that a paper with persistent, non-trivial grammatical or mechanical problems can receive, regardless of the quality the paper in other respects.

C-: A C- means that the paper just barely meets the absolute minimum standards for a college-level essay.

D papers: Receiving a D on a paper means that the paper has at least one fundamental problem that keeps it from being an appropriate analysis that deals with the question at a satisfying basic level. Often, one or more of the following is true: the paper suggests fundamental problems with understanding and/or analyzing the material; the paper is unclear and/or disorganized to the point of causing interpretive difficulty for the reader; the paper has frequent, severe grammatical/mechanical problems, or severe problems with conforming to the MLA standard; the paper does not take an analytical approach to the text(s), but consists of disconnected observations or other types of responses; the paper's relevance to the content of the course as a whole is questionable. (If you have questions about how your paper does not meet basic standards for a piece of analytical writing, please see me! I am happy to discuss how you can better succeed at the task of analytical writing.)

F: A plagiarized or otherwise fundamentally dishonest paper, or one that is a profoundly and pervasively inappropriate response to the writing assignment. Note that plagiarism will definitely result in penalties beyond simply receiving an F on the paper.

Receiving a lower-than-expected grade is not necessarily a reason to freak out. Writers of B-range papers often have a good understanding of what's going on in the course, and may be able to demonstrate this well enough in other components of the course to pull their grades up. Students who write papers that receive lower grades can often improve their grades on subsequent work by correcting the problems that I note in my comments. I would be happy to discuss how you can better succeed in constructing an argument about a text in my office hours (and am happy to meet students outside of my office hours if they are at inconvenient times for you). Students who are having problems with grammar, structure, or other matters related to writing and its mechanics may also benefit from the assistance of Campus Learning Assistance Services.

If you believe that the grade you received is not a fair assessment of your paper and would like to dispute it, you should write me a letter explaining specific reasons why the grade I gave you is not a good match for the paper you wrote, basing your argument on the grading rubric above. Note specific discrepancies based on my comments and passages from the paper. You should turn the letter in to me, along with a copy of your paper that has my comments on it. We will then schedule an appointment to discuss your grade. If we cannot come to an agreement at that point, you should then speak to Professor Duffy.

You are of course welcome to talk to me about your paper even if you do not believe that the grade is unfair. I would be more than happy to elucidate comments, go further into material that you found interesting, or discuss how future papers can better achieve an exposition of your ideas. Please feel free to come to my office or schedule an appointment with me if you would like to discuss any of these topics.