When asked to describe an excellent essay, I am tempted to respond the way a
Supreme Court justice did, famously, in a case that defined pornography: "I
know it when I see it." But that does not really help, does it? So listed
below you will find some of the distinguishing characteristics of A, B,
C, D, and F essays. You will notice that the main evaluative categories are
content, structure, argument, and mechanics. One more bit of advice: Coax a
friend, roommate, parent, or stranger into reading drafts of your
essays. Writers often do not see the flaws in their own writing.
Revised January 2001
- A essay: It has a strong, convincing argument (thesis). It
addresses all parts of the assignment. It is written clearly and carefully,
without unnecessary words. It demonstrates not only understanding of the basic
issues but also of the importance of those issues. It shows perfect command of
factual information. It supports interpretive statements with relevant examples
from the evidence at hand. It demonstrates careful thought. It is organized
logically from one point to the next in such a way that the reader cannot help
but be convinced that the author's argument is correct. It is properly typed and
proofread and contains no mechanical errors. In short, an excellent essay
demonstrates the author's careful attention from start to finish.
- B essay: It is significantly more than competently written,
using appropriate evidence to support its argument (thesis). It addresses all
parts of the assignment, demonstrates clear thought and an understanding of all
the issues involved, and contains no factual errors. It is almost free of
mechanical errors, and it delivers substantial information in both quantity
and interest-value. Its specific points are logically ordered, well developed,
and unified around a clear organizing principle that is apparent in the
paper. The opening paragraph draws the reader in; 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 pleasingly varied.
The words chosen by the author of a B essay are typically more concise and
precise than those found in the C essay. In short, the B essay demonstrates the
author's careful attention, but also has a few lapses or flaws.
- C essay: It is generally competent. Its argument is clearly
stated but not completely convincing. It addresses the assignment, has few
mechanical errors, and is reasonably well organized and developed. The actual
information it delivers, however, seems thin. It sometimes introduces evidence
without making clear what point that evidence is intended to support. The
central ideas are clearly stated, but the writing style may be dull, or even
murky in places. The opening paragraph fails to interest the reader in the rest
of the essay. The reader will have questions left unanswered and may become
confused in spots. Transitions between ideas are occasionally bumpy, and the
organization could probably flow in a more logical way. In short, the C essay
gets the job done but lacks careful attention to the subject and to writing.
- D essay: It addresses the assignment but has serious gaps or
flaws. It does not demonstrate a clear understanding of the topic and probably
lacks an argument (thesis). Assertions are made without supporting evidence
to support them. The organization is present, but it is neither clear
nor effective. It has little sense of direction. Sentences are frequently
awkward and unclear. Serious mechanical errors make it difficult for the reader
to understand the author's views. The author obviously did not proofread
carefully. In short, the D essay often gives the impression that the author
was not fully prepared and wrote in a hurry without much thought.
- F essay: Its treatment of the subject is superficial. There is
no clear statement of an argument (thesis). The author fails to proceed
logically from one idea to the next, but rather appears to write whatever comes
to mind, whenever it comes to mind. It probably has mechanical errors so serious
that they obscure the author's intended meaning. In short, the ideas, organization,
and style fall far below what is acceptable college writing.