Essay Criteria

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In order to simplify the grading of student essays, I use a correction sheet on which I mark an X to indicate that the student has failed in this regard or a + to show that the student has done well.

I also write abbreviations on the essay that are explained in the handout.

These are the criteria by which I will grade your papers. You may, of course, break all these rules as you see fit when you are doing other kinds of writing for a different audience. If you violate these standards in writing essays for me, you will receive a lower grade as a consequence.



assigned length



1" margins

26 lines per page

teacher's name and section ID

number each page

no covers, please

Content, argument, style

helpful title

first paragraph detailed, effective


consistent development

formal tone

avoid colloquialisms

don't use "you"

You can use "you" all you want when you are speaking or writing informally. In academic papers, the convention is not to do so. Restrict yourself to first or third person in your formal writing.

First person pronouns
I, we
my, mine, ours
myself, ourselves
Second person pronouns
your, yours
yourself, yourselves
Third person pronouns
he, she, they
his, hers, theirs
himself, herself, [oneself,] themselves


repetition is not development

argues for a viewpoint

provides analysis, not reactions (RP)

avoid glittering generalities (GG)

avoid rhetorical questions (RQ)

not just a list of facts

not just a summary of others' ideas

not just plot summary w/o analysis (PS)

judicious use of examples, quotes

shows understanding of readings

deals with assigned topic / readings

balanced parallels

illogical--"doesn't follow" (non seq.)

understand others before criticizing

good content, poor form

well-written, but content weak



"Syntax" deals with the meaning of words. Choosing just the right word to express your meaning is an art that can never be put fully into words. It is easy to recognize inappropriate words.

Never misuse "hopefully."

"Hopefully" is an adverb, a word that modifies a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. If you mean "I hope," say "I hope."

"That" vs. "Who"

"Novel" vs. "Book"



commonly confused words

  • accept/except
  • affect/effect
  • cannot
  • its/it's
  • their/there
  • to/too/two
  • you're/your


correct use of apostrophe

  • Possession
  • Contraction



There are some rules governing the use of commas. Some are definitely required and some are definitely prohibited.

That said, there is a great deal of freedom nowadays. The modern tendency is to use as few commas as possible.




question mark

exclamation point

quotation marks

dash vs. hyphen

  • Hyphens connect words: Vice-president, twenty-year-old man.
  • Dashes break sentences into two or more parts--like this.
  • Hyphens are short-as-short-can-be. They are known as "n-dashes" because they are roughly as wide as the letter "n".
  • Dashes are long. I normally use two hyphens--without any extra spaces thrown in!--but it is possible to us an "m-dash"—a single character that is roughly as wide as the letter "m". You may also use space-hyphen-space, if you wish - but you may not simply put a hyphen where a dash belongs or vice-versa.


  • Titles of articles in "quotation marks."
  • Underline or italicize titles of books.

no contractions

use gender-neutral language (GNL)

Since the 1970s, it has become necessary to use "gender neutral language" in academic writing.

Do not say "man" when you mean "men and women."

Do not say "he," "him," or "his" when the person you are talking about could be a man or a woman.

Do not use gender-specific terms for jobs or professions that can employ either men or women: fireman, police man, chairman, etc.

When you are quoting a source, you may leave its non-inclusive language intact. In your own academic writing, you must demonstrate that you know how to write from a neutral standpoint.

Sentence formation

complete sentences (inc)

no run-on sentences (r-o)

no comma-splices

agreement in number

agreement in tense


one idea

more than one sentence


develops theme of the paper

block quotations

Single-space and indent long quotations without quotation marks (ss+i).

Placing the text in a single-spaced and indented BLOCK marks the text as a quotation. That is why quotation marks are NOT needed. The format of the paragraph has already indicated that it is a quotation.




The overall work must be demonstrably your own.


Use evidence, authority, or argument to support your conclusions (EV).

give credit where credit is due (REF)

page refs for paraphrases (PR)

cite chapter and verse of scripture references (CH:VV)

punctuating references

correct location of spaces

A space precedes (comes before) left quotation marks (") and left parenentheses -- (.

We also place spaces between words.

For example:

  • Supply the source of paraphrases (RS, 123).
  • Employ "quotation" (HS, 64).
  • Ask "questions?" (MW, 23).
  • Retain their "exclamation!" (WO, 76).

Highlighting the spaces for those who have trouble seeing them:

  • Supply the source of paraphrases (RS, 123).
  • Employ "quotation" (HS, 64).
  • Ask "questions?" (MW, 23).
  • Retain their "exclamation!" (WO, 76).

Note that:

  • there are no spaces AFTER the left quotation mark (") or the left parenthesis--"(".
  • there are no spaces BEFORE the right quotation mark (") or the right parenthesis--")".


Consistent disregard of grammatical standards means that a student will receive no higher than a C-, D or F on the essay, regardless of other merits.

Grade scale

A 95-100
A- 90-94
B+ 86-89
B 82-85
B- 78-81
C+ 74-77
C 70-73
C- 66-69
D 60-65
F 0-59