Grading Criteria For Essay Questions

Evaluation Criteria for Formal Essays

Katherine Milligan

Please note that these four categories are interdependent. For example, if your evidence is weak, this will almost certainly affect the quality of your argument and organization. Likewise, if you have difficulty with syntax, it is to be expected that your transitions will suffer. In revision, therefore, take a holistic approach to improving your essay, rather than focussing exclusively on one aspect.

An excellent paper:

Argument: The paper knows what it wants to say and why it wants to say it. It goes beyond pointing out comparisons to using them to change the reader?s vision.
Organization: Every paragraph supports the main argument in a coherent way, and clear transitions point out why each new paragraph follows the previous one.
Evidence: Concrete examples from texts support general points about how those texts work. The paper provides the source and significance of each piece of evidence.
Mechanics: The paper uses correct spelling and punctuation. In short, it generally exhibits a good command of academic prose.

A mediocre paper:

Argument: The paper replaces an argument with a topic, giving a series of related observations without suggesting a logic for their presentation or a reason for presenting them.
Organization: The observations of the paper are listed rather than organized. Often, this is a symptom of a problem in argument, as the framing of the paper has not provided a path for evidence to follow.
Evidence: The paper offers very little concrete evidence, instead relying on plot summary or generalities to talk about a text. If concrete evidence is present, its origin or significance is not clear.
Mechanics: The paper contains frequent errors in syntax, agreement, pronoun reference, and/or punctuation.

An appallingly bad paper:

Argument: The paper lacks even a consistent topic, providing a series of largely unrelated observations.
Organization: The observations are listed rather than organized, and some of them do not appear to belong in the paper at all. Both paper and paragraphs lack coherence.
Evidence: The paper offers no concrete evidence from the texts or misuses a little evidence.
Mechanics: The paper contains constant and glaring errors in syntax, agreement, reference, spelling, and/or punctuation.


On this page you will find a variety of criteria and rubrics you can use to assess writing in history courses. It is suggested that, if any grading rubric is used in a course, that all TAs for that course use the same or a similar rubrics.

Grading tools such as spreadsheets and point conversion charts can be found on the Grading Tools page.

Paper grading criteria and rubrics

Writing Rubric
Source/Contributor: Jason Shattuck
Course: Unknown
Date: Winter 2008
Format: PDF

A one-page table correlating "Thesis/Argument," "Structure," "Evidence," "Analysis," "Sources," and "Style" with specific grade ranges.

Tips for Grading Essay and Short Problem Questions
Source/Contributor: Center for Instruction Development & Research
Course: None
Date: Unknown

One page of six grading tips for instructors. These are basic tips, but helpful, especially for those unsure of how to begin.

Criteria for Grading History Essays
Source/Contributor: Tim Wright
Course: Unknown
Date: Fall 2006
Format: Word document

A one-page adaptation and updating of an older rubric used by Professor Alexandra Harmon and apparently once standard in the history department.

Guidelines for Writing Assignments
Source/Contributor: Gigi Peterson
Course: Unknown
Date: Unknown
Format: PDF

This is a two-page handout that includes the guidelines on the first page and "Criteria for the Evaluation of Essays" on the second page. Covers the structure and format of essays (introduction, body, conclusion, and style), and refers to Kate Turabian's A Manual for Writers and Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. Includes a cool Calvin and Hobbes cartoon.

Some Grading Criteria for Papers & Essays
Source/Contributor: Betsy Crouch & Mike Quinn
Course: Unknown
Date: Fall 2004
Format: PDF

Probably not for use with students, this two-page handout takes a light-hearted look at what makes a good paper and includes things such as describing a C-range paper as "the classic mediocrity" "written in passable, but ‘just barely goodly English.'"

Grading Forms

Grading form
Source/Contributor: Tim Wright
Course: Unknown
Date: Fall 2006
Format: Word document form

This is a Word document form that provides a checklist format of evaluating student papers while providing room for instructor's typed comments—all on a single page that can be stapled to the student's assignment. Retention of copies of the form allows an instructor to assess whether students' writing is improving or not. This is the companion form for Wright's Paper Checklist.

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