Why Did My Paper Get A [insert grade here]?


The following text was taken from the website of Chuck Huff (of St. Olaf College, http://www.stolaf.edu/people/huff/), who freely admits to having borrowed it from other places on the web and having modified it to his needs. It is to be regarded (in the context of my courses, anyway) merely as a general guide, not as a detailed map to be slavishly followed.

Christopher D. Green

3 December 2004

Why do I start this list with the "B" paper? Because a B is a fine thing to get on a paper and because a B paper is a paper that fulfills the requirements of the assignment in full. In short, a B is the description of work well done. The A paper adds several positive qualities that surpass all the requirements of the assignment. Among these are clarity and richness in content. More detail is given below.

* B paper (Good): It is significantly more than competent. Besides being almost free of mechanical errors, the "B" paper delivers substantial information--that is, substantial in both quantity and in relevance. Its specific points are logically ordered, well-developed, and unified around a clear organizing principle that is apparent early in the paper. It has positive value that goes beyond the avoidance of error, but it lacks one or more qualities that would bring it close to perfection. It may develop an idea fully and accurately but lack elements of originality. It may have all the qualities of an A paper except naturalness of organization, or it may be marred by improper form, inappropriate style, or occasional obscurity. Stylistically, the opening paragraph draws the reader; the closing paragraph is both conclusive and thematically related to the opening. The transitions between paragraphs are, for the most part, smooth, the sentence structures varied. The diction is more concise and precise than that of the "C" paper. In general, a "B" paper offers substantial information with few distractions.

The B paper, then, is a complete paper in fulfilling the assignment, but lacks something in organization, clarity, richness of detail, quantity of information, or cleanness of style. If you receive a B on a paper, ask me what from this list describes what is missing. Often, the B paper is one revision away from being an A. The revision involves noticing the flaws and thinness in analysis, content, or style, and then moving vigorously to correct them.

* A paper (
Superior): The Superior paper is written far above the minimum standards I have outlined for the assignment. It includes all the positive qualities of the B paper listed above. In addition, it displays originality, imagination, vitality, and a personal voice for the author. But the principal characteristic of the "A" paper is its rich content and analysis. The quality, quantity, clarity, and density of the information delivered is such that the reader feels significantly taught by the author, sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph. The "A" paper is also marked by stylistic finesse: the title and the opening are engaging; the transitions are artful and related to the argument of the paper, not mere window dressing; the phrasing is tight, fresh, and specific; the tone enhances the purpose of the paper. Finally, the "A" paper shows a subtlety of logic that often escapes the more straightforward "B" paper; it makes strong claims while anticipating nuance, special circumstances, and irony. The "A" paper, because of its careful organization and development, imparts a feeling of wholeness, clarity, and strength of argument.

* C paper (Adequate): It is generally competent but lacks intellectual rigor; it meets the assignment, has few mechanical errors and is reasonably well-organized and developed. The actual information it delivers, however, seems thin and commonplace. One reason for that impression is that the ideas are typically cast in the form of vague generalities--generalities in presentation of theory, experimental findings, or even application examples. The paper may not be developed fully, its logic may be unconvincing or its organization, paragraphs, or sentences weak. Stylistically, the "C" paper has other shortcomings: a weak opening paragraph, a perfunctory conclusion, strained transitions, choppy and monotonous sentence patterns, and diction marred by repetition, redundancy, and imprecision. Occasionally, a paper may rate an A or B in content and receive a C because of errors of form. Just as often, a paper may be relatively correct in form, but its content may be uninspired or thin, thus warranting a grade no higher than C.

* D paper (Unsatisfactory): This paper is largely faulty, often because of errors of form or mechanics, but it does not warrant complete disregard. It may contain little or no content, it may simply restate arbitrarily selected material from the sources, or it may lack coherent organization. It does, however, have some saving graces: a spark of originality, an important argument buried in incoherent syntax, some mastery of sentence skills, or a relative grasp of organization.

* F paper (Not acceptable): Its treatment of the subject is superficial; its theme lacks discernible organization; its prose is garbled or lacking in clarity or style. Mechanical errors are frequent. In short, the ideas, organization, and style fall far short of acceptable college writing in English (the language, and also likely, the Department).