University Essay Guidelines Rubric

General characteristics by letter grade of university-level student papers:

Also See:

High School Persuasive Essay Rubric

PDF Version:
PDF Rubric

The A Paper

IdeasExcels in responding to assignment. Interesting, demonstrates sophistication of thought. Central idea/thesis is clearly communicated, worth developing; limited enough to be manageable. Paper recognizes some complexity of its thesis: may acknowledge its contradictions, qualifications, or limits and follow out their logical implications. Understands and critically evaluates its sources; appropriately limits and defines terms.
Organization and Coherence Uses a logical structure appropriate to paper's subject, purpose, audience, thesis, and disciplinary field. Sophisticated transitional sentences often develop one idea from the previous one or identify their logical relations. It guides the reader through the chain of reasoning or progression of ideas.
SupportUses evidence appropriately and effectively, providing sufficient evidence and explanation to convince.
StyleChooses words for their precise meanings and uses an appropriate level of specificity. Sentence style fits paper's audience and purpose. Sentences are varied, yet clearly structured and carefully focused, not long and rambling.
MechanicsAlmost entirely free of spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors.

The B Paper

Ideas A solid paper, responding appropriately to assignment. Has clearly stated thesis or idea, but may have minor lapses in development. Begins to acknowledge the complexity of central idea and the possibility of other points of view. Shows careful reading of sources, but may not evaluate them critically. Attempts to define terms, not always successfully.
Organization and CoherenceShows a logical progression of ideas and uses fairly sophisticated transitional devices: e.g., may move from least to most important idea. Some logical links may be faulty, but each paragraph clearly relates to paper's central idea.
SupportBegins to offer reasons to support its points, perhaps using varied kinds of evidence. Begins to interpret the evidence and explain connections between evidence and main ideas. Its examples bear some relevance.
StyleGenerally uses words accurately and effectively, but may sometimes be too general. Sentences generally clear, well structured, focused - though some may be awkward and ineffective.
MechanicsMay contain a few errors, which may annoy the reader but not impede understanding.

The C Paper

IdeasAdequate but weaker and less effective, possibly responding less well to assignment. Presents central idea in general terms often depending on platitudes or cliches. Usually does not acknowledge other views. Shows basic comprehension of sources, perhaps with some lapses in understanding. If it defines terms, often depends on dictionary definitions.
Organization and Coherence May list ideas or arrange them randomly rather than using any evident logical structure. May use transitions, but they are likely to be sequential (first, second, third) rather than logic based. While each paragraph may relate to a central idea, logic is not always clear. Paragraphs have topic sentences but may be overly general, and arrangement of sentences within paragraphs may lack coherence.
SupportOften uses generalizations to support its points. May use examples, but they may be obvious or not relevant. Often depends on unsupported opinion or personal experience, or assumes that evidence speaks for itself and needs no application to point being discussed. Often has lapses in logic.
StyleUses relatively vague and general words, may use some inappropriate language. Sentence structure generally correct, but sentences may be wordy, unfocused, repetitive, or confusing.
MechanicsUsually contains several mechanical errors, which may temporarily confuse the reader but not impede overall understanding.

The D Paper

IdeasDoes not have a clear central idea or does not respond appropriately to the assignment. Thesis may be too vague or obvious to be developed effectively. Paper may misunderstand sources.
Organization and CoherenceMay have random organization, lacking internal paragraph coherence and using few or inappropriate transitions. Paragraphs may lack topic sentences or main ideas, or may be too general or too specific to be effective. Paragraphs may not all relate to paper's thesis.
SupportDepends on cliches or overgeneralizations for support, or offers little evidence of any kind. May be personal narrative rather than essay, or summary rather than analysis.
StyleMay be vague and abstract, or very personal and specific. Usually contains several awkward or ungrammatical sentences; sentence structure is simple or monotonous.
MechanicsUsually contains either many mechanical errors or a few important errors that block the reader's understanding and ability to see connections between thoughts.

The F Paper

IdeasDoes not respond to assignment, lacks a thesis or central idea, and may neglect to use sources where necessary.
Organization and CoherenceNo appreciable organization; lacks transitions and coherence.
SupportUses irrelevant details or lacks supporting evidence entirely. May be unduly brief.
StyleUsually contains many awkward sentences, misuses words, employs inappropriate language.
MechanicsUsually contains so many mechanical errors that it is impossible for the reader to follow the thinking from sentence to sentence.



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