Standard Grading Criteria: Literature



The A paper is an outstanding performance; it may exceed the expectations of the assignment. It is thought-provoking, elegant, passionate, persuasive. It meets and exceeds the requirements for the B paper.

THESIS: Clear and cogent; original, significant insights into primary work’s themes and literary elements. Creative, well-articulated connection to secondary sources.

ORGANIZATION: Logical, creative organization growing naturally from thesis and content; strong introduction and conclusion. Organized topically instead of being plot summary. Quotations, summary, and paraphrases are seamlessly introduced, synthesized, analyzed and interpreted. Source material from primary and secondary works is thoroughly and creatively integrated into student’s argument;

DEVELOPMENT: Paragraphs thoroughly developed and linked by organic transitions; graceful use of varied rhetorical strategies; clear contextualization; convincing reasons, explanations, examples, illustrations; concrete, powerful details.

RESEARCH/INFORMATION LITERACY: Sources are of the highest quality and are sufficient in number; thorough and creative use of varied source material. Quotations, summary, and paraphrases are deftly synthesized, and analyzed or interpreted.

LANGUAGE: Grace and economy of expressions; conscious choice of language; vivid, precise, inventive creative word choice.

            TONE/VOICE: Authoritative, honest; awareness of audience.

            SENTENCES: Complexity of sentence structure. Literary present tense consistently used.

            MECHANICS: Mastery of conventions of edited Standard Written English.

            MLA: Quotations correctly punctuated and blocked. Parenthetical citations used appropriately and correctly, according to most recent guidelines. Works Cited page follows most recent MLA guidelines. Very minor, if any, formatting errors.


The B paper is a good, better-than-average performance. It is interesting and competent. It meets and exceeds the requirements for the C paper.

THESIS: Clear and well-defined; asserts purpose of paper; is directly relevant to and addresses all parts of the assignment. Identifies an interpretation of primary work’s themes and literary elements. Logical connection to secondary sources.

ORGANIZATION: Logical organization; well-developed introduction and conclusion; paragraphs linked to thesis and to each other using effective transitions. Source material from primary and secondary sources are integrated into student’s own argument. Is not merely a plot summary, though scheme of organization may revolve around plot.

DEVELOPMENT: Rhetorical strategies used as necessary (narration, cause & effect, process, etc.); coherent paragraphs, fully developed with supporting reasons, explanations, examples, illustrations, context; generalizations supported with relevant, specific details.

RESEARCH/INFO. LITERACY: Sources are of good quality and number; appropriately varied and thorough source material; quotations, summary, and paraphrases are synthesized, analyzed, or interpreted.

LANGUAGE: accurate word choice; concise sentences; some flair.

            TONE/VOICE: Engaging, lively; some awareness of audience.

            SENTENCES: Some variety and complexity of sentence structure; free of basic

errors such as fragments, run-ons, subject/verb agreement. Literary present tense used (may be a few errors).

            MECHANICS: Observes conventions of standard written English.

            MLA: Quotations are correctly punctuated and blocked in most instances. Parenthetical citations used appropriately and correctly, according to most recent guidelines. Works Cited page follows most recent MLA guidelines. Minor formatting errors do not deter from comprehensibility of citation; all significant information included.


The C paper represents adequate, readable college-level writing. Choice of topic and thesis is appropriate to the nature of the assignment. It may not respond to all parts of the assignment.

THESIS: Focus or controlling idea relevant to assigned topic; may be overly general or not closely linked to content of essay. Relates to theme or literary elements of primary work. Secondary sources relevant.

ORGANIZATION: Some evidence of organization or rhetorical framework; clear beginning, middle, and end. Sources from primary and secondary support student’s argument but are too general or not smoothly integrated.

DEVELOPMENT: Uses paragraphs and topic sentences; gives supporting reasons and examples, but may not be sufficiently contextualized, logically reasoned, or fully developed. May not meet length requirement. Relies heavily on plot summary rather than analysis of literary elements, themes, or research.

RESEARCH/INFO. LITERACY: Sources are of acceptable quality and number; may not be the most relevant or current sources; quotations, summary, and paraphrases reflect a good-faith effort at correct designation but are commented upon simplistically.

LANGUAGE: Clear writing, mostly accurate word choice.

            TONE/VOICE: Consistent, but little sense of authorial voice.

            SENTENCES: Complete, mostly correct sentences. Some attempt to use literary present tense.

            MECHANICS: Free of distracting errors of spelling and punctuation.

MLA: Some minor errors in quotation formatting. Reflects an attempt to follow most recent MLA guidelines. Some content and formatting errors exist in parenthetical references and Works Cited page. Parenthetical references may not coordinate well with Works Cited entries.


The D paper is confusing, difficult to read, unfocused. It does not demonstrate competent college-level writing.

THESIS: Lacks a thesis or controlling idea; does not address assigned topic. Does not relate clearly to themes, literary elements, or secondary sources.

ORGANIZATION: Unstructured or disordered; lacks clear beginning, middle, and end. Primary and secondary source material is awkwardly placed or not coherently integrated into paper.

DEVELOPMENT: Severely underdeveloped; poor sense of paragraphs: paragraphs overly long or short, arbitrarily or illogically ordered, incoherent or not unified; lack of support for ideas; lack of concrete detail; irrelevancies, redundancies, oversimplifications, filler. Abundant plot summary with errors and omissions.

RESEARCH/INFO. LITERACY: Sources are inappropriate (dubious web page quality, lack of Library materials, insufficient number of sources, outdated or irrelevant sources) for college-level research. Source material is accidentally or intentionally plagiarized (quotations marks not used, insufficient paraphrases); research does not support student’s argument; research is not reflected upon or interpreted.

LANGUAGE: Unclear or incoherent writing.

            TONE/VOICE: Little awareness of audience.

            SENTENCES: Vague, wordy, confusing, or incomplete sentences. Distracting lack of

            literary present tense.

            MECHANICS: Numerous distracting errors; nonstandard English.

            MLA: Parenthetical citations are frequently absent or inaccurate; Works Cited page is missing or incomprehensible; many errors or omissions in content and formatting of entries.


The F paper is weak in several areas. It fails to communicate its ideas effectively. The writer may not understand the assigned question. It may be late. Plagiarized papers merit an automatic F.

THESIS: No attempt to respond to assignment. No literary analysis or use of secondary source material.

ORGANIZATION: Lack of organizing principle; lacks paragraphs. Lacks transitions into or indications of outside research material.

DEVELOPMENT: Seriously and consistently illogical and/or predicated on false premises. Very serious omissions and errors. Or, not original—may be an un-cited summary of print or online study material (e.g., Cliffs or Spark Notes, Master Plots, paper mill resource, or essay written by another student or writer).

RESEARCH/INFO. LITERACY: No research done or obviously inappropriate sources used. Plagiarism; utter lack of argument; lack of detail; absence of interpretation, synthesis, or analysis.

LANGUAGE: Incomprehensible.

            TONE/VOICE: Little or no awareness of audience.

            SENTENCES: Numerous grammatical errors.

            MECHANICS: Numerous mechanical errors.

            MLA: Severe deficiencies of quotation formatting, parenthetical citations, and Works Cited entries; entire lack of  quotation punctuation, parenthetical citations, and Works Cited list.