Department of Rhetoric & Writing
Department of Rhetoric & Writing

Grading Criteria

Some instructors assign grades to each discrete essay, while others collect all your work in a portfolio and assign a grade to the portfolio at specific points during the semester. A third option used by some instructors is the Learning Record Online. Be sure to read your instructor's policy statement carefully so that you understand their method of collecting and evaluating your work.


Because RHE 306 and RHE 309S are writing courses, you will generally be evaluated on the quality of your written work. Make sure that you read each assignment sheet thoroughly and ask questions about any requirements that seem unclear. The major part of your grade will come from the final versions of the essays that you write, but you will also turn in drafts of your essays, write responses to your classmates' work and undertake various, short writing assignments. Some instructors give occasional quizzes or a midterm and final exam.

Students often ask how their instructors arrive at grades for papers. Informal studies of evaluation practices, in fact, show little variation in grading: a B in one class is likely to be a B in another class. So although individual instructors may have their own particular ideas about grading, they tend to have similar grading standards. In the DRW, uniformity in grading practices is further encouraged in grading workshops, in which new instructors study how others evaluate student writing.

Few instructors enjoy giving grades. Nevertheless, most recognize that grades are a necessary part of college life and try to evaluate student work fairly. If you have specific questions, you should feel free to discuss grades with your instructor. To make such discussions as pleasant and useful as possible, avoid asking your instructor to change your letter grade. Instead, inquire how you might improve your writing. You should also wait a day or two after a paper is returned before you approach your instructor about the grade. Re-read your essay, formulate specific questions about your work, and approach your instructor with an open mind.

Grading Criteria

Although different instructors and assignments may emphasize certain criteria over others, the following descriptions can help you understand the difference between a very good argumentative essay and an average one. If you have more specific questions about your instructor's expectations, talk to them.

C: To earn a C, your argumentative paper should, first and foremost, take a clear stand on one debatable claim and provide sufficient evidence to support that position. To accomplish this requirement, make sure your paper fulfills the assignment (type of argument, outside research, length, format, and so on) and give your paper a discernible structure, using transitions to help your reader move from one idea to another. The ideas you present should demonstrate that you understand the rhetorical concepts that your instructor has addressed in class. Moreover, show that you have responded actively and thoughtfully to peer responses and to your instructor's comments. If you use outside sources, summarize them accurately and employ them fairly. Grammatical and syntactical mistakes should not impede your readers' understanding of your argument.

B: To earn a B, first build on the skills needed to earn a C. In addition to making a clear argument, you might address a more complicated or challenging topic. You might employ a variety of rhetorical techniques that go beyond the specific requirements of the assignment and respond more directly to the concerns and values of your particular audience. Additionally, you might synthesize and evaluate outside sources in the service of developing your own claim. Finally, show that you understand the importance of word choice, voice, and style, in addition to grammatical competency.

A: To earn an A, you should continue to build on the foundations discussed above. Your thesis should be provocative, possibly addressing an issue from a perspective that most readers have not considered, perhaps even changing the way they look at it altogether. To construct such a thesis, investigate the full range of positions on your issue. Carefully examine the underlying assumptions, values, ethos , and use of evidence in your sources, instead of taking them at face value. As always, you should demonstrate your command of style, voice, mechanics, and usage.

If you receive a D on a paper, carefully consider the criteria listed above for a C. Instructors may give Ds to papers when writers, while demonstrating a general understanding of the topic and concepts, have not mastered some basic skills. If you misunderstand the assignment; show little understanding of the required rhetorical concepts; or ignore the technical requirements of topic, length, or format, your paper may receive an F. If you need help identifying problems in your writing, consult your instructor or the Undergraduate Writing Center.