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Online Guide to Writing and Research

Assessing Your Writing

How Is Writing Graded?

Students often want to know how their writing assignments are graded—that is, what is an A paper, a B paper, and so on. Generally speaking, there are two basic ways to determine how your papers will be graded.

  • Understand your assignment, which often will include a rubric.

  • Understand general grading standards professors usually apply to papers.

Assignments and What Rubrics Have To Do with Them 

Virtally every college and graduate-level assignment will include instructions from your professor. Often, rubrics, which provide criteria for each possible grade you might receive, will accompany your assignments. 

Some rubrics can be quite detailed, breaking down the assignment and describing the grading criteria for each requirement. Other rubrics merely provide general writing standards associated with each grade. In either case, your first and best source for understanding assignment’s associated grading standards is the content of the assignment itself.

Take Note

As you familiarize yourself with an assignment and its rubric, keep in mind the following:

  • Prioritize the criteria for a particular assignment over the criteria listed in the section below. 

  • When an assignment comes with a rubric, study the rubric and familiarize yourself with it. Aside from your professor, this is the best guide to successfully meeting the assignment requirements.

  • Prioritize your professor’s advice above all. College and graduate professors often provide their own descriptions of their assignments and a list of requirements. Sometimes these can differ from the accompanying rubric. If you are ever in doubt about your assignment and its requirements, contact your professor with your questions. 

Some General (Though Not Exhaustive) Grading Standards for Academic Papers

Although each professor and class is unique, there are some general qualities that attach to each grade. The following grading standards may be useful as you assess your own writing, but remember, a number of factors ultimately contribute to your grade, including your specific instructor's guidelines and preferences. Always defer to your assignment-specific or class-specific standards for grading information, and reach out to your instructor with any questions.

The A paper is characterized by outstanding writing marked by superior readability and command of content.

  • The paper thoroughly addresses the assignment prompt. 

  • The paper proceeds in a clear, logical fashion that makes the information accessible to the reader. 

  • The paper’s purpose is clear, followed by details reflecting this purpose.  

  • The style throughout the paper accommodates the reader. 

  • The diction throughout the paper, and sentence construction, contribute to understanding. 

  • The student’s grammar, mechanics, and format are flawless.

The B paper is characterized by distinguished writing and fulfills the assignment requirements; however, the writing contains some of the following weaknesses:

  • The paper is well organized, but the presentation of content sometimes inhibits understanding.

  • The audience for which the paper is intended is sometimes unclear.

  • The student’s diction at times is vague and hinders precise communication. 

  • The student’s grammar, mechanics, and formatting flaws interfere with reading and comprehension.

The C paper is characterized by satisfactory writing that is generally effective but contains any one of the following weaknesses:

  • The paper lacks clear organization, or some material is not clearly explained; the paper’s audience and purpose are not clear.

  • The student’s sentences, although grammatically correct, often make information difficult to extract.

  • The student’s diction throughout the paper interferes with readability, but the reader can still glean the meaning; sections of the paper require rereading. 

  • The paper contains repeated errors in grammar, mechanics, or format.

The D paper struggles to communicate information and contains weak writing. In a professional work environment, such writing would be considered incompetent because it suffers from any one of the following problems:

  • The paper contains two or more of the problems listed for the C paper.

  • The paper lacks evidence of audience accommodation.

  • The paper contains poor diction, such as garbled wording that prevents understanding. 

  • The student’s sentences have mechanical errors, such as persistent run‑on sentences and comma splices.

  • The student’s grammar, spelling, or format problems create frequent obstacles to understanding.

The paper fails on multiple levels. A failing grade on a writing assignment usually means that your paper contains two or more of the problems listed for the D paper.

Formal Writing Habits


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Table of Contents: Online Guide to Writing