Interpretation of Letter Grades for Papers

by Kathryn Rummell
Associate Professor of English
Cal Poly University, San Luis Obispo


An "A" paper. . . is outstanding. It is rich in content and has a thoughtful, creative, and well-placed thesis. The writer’s interpretation is well-supported by textual evidence and his or her conclusions are thoughtfully and logically drawn. The essay exhibits sound organization; all parts of it work together to accomplish a purpose clearly stated early in the paper. A paper of this caliber generally includes an engaging opening paragraph that entices the reader to continue, as well as a solid concluding paragraph that leaves the reader with a sense of the significance of the thesis. The body of the paper will contain well-developed individual paragraphs that utilize topic sentences; transitions within and between paragraphs will help the paper to flow smoothly. "A" writers will effectively vary their sentence structure. They will write with stylistic finesse, meaning that their writing will be clear and graceful with few, if any, awkward passages or grammatical errors.

A "B" paper. . . is significantly more than competent. Besides being almost free of mechanical errors, the "B" paper delivers substantial information in terms of both quantity and interest. Its specific points are in general logically ordered, well-developed, and unified around a clear organizing principle that is apparent early 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 diction of the "B" paper typically is much more concise and precise than that found in the "C" paper. A "B" paper departs from the quality of an "A" paper, however, in terms of its sophistication and the finesse of its language and thought. Whereas an "A" paper maintains a consistently high level of thoughtful analysis, a "B" paper may include one or more ideas that could use further development in order that the reader may grasp fully the writer’s meaning. A "B" paper may include a few awkward passages, but they do not hinder significantly the writer’s expression.

A"C" paper. . . is generally competent. It meets the assignment, has few mechanical errors, and is reasonably well-organized and developed. The actual information it delivers, however, seems thin and obvious to most readers. One reason for that impression is that the ideas typically are cast in the form of vague generalities that confuse readers and prompt them to ask questions like "in every case?" "what do you mean exactly?" "why?" Another reason for that impression might be that the ideas have been discussed in class and the writer does not push them any further. The "C" paper tends to accumulate (often paragraph by paragraph) a list of observations or examples without integrating them into a unified argument. Stylistically, the "C" paper has other shortcomings as well: the opening paragraph does little to draw the reader in; the final paragraph offers only a perfunctory wrap-up; the transitions between paragraphs are often bumpy; the sentences, besides being a bit choppy, tend to follow a predictable (hence monotonous) pattern; and diction occasionally is marred by redundancy and imprecision.

A "D" paper. . . lacks significant treatment of its topic. Although organization is present, it is neither clear nor effective. The introduction and conclusion are often unfocused or irrelevant; a "D" paper will contain many paragraphs that are not fully developed and that do not related clearly to the essay’s main idea or to the preceding or following paragraphs. Sentences frequently are awkward, ambiguous, and marred by serious mechanical errors. Evidence of careful proofreading is scanty or nonexistent. The whole piece, in fact, gives the impression of having been conceived and written in haste, and the reader is confused more often than he or she is convinced.

An "F" paper. . . treats its subject only superficially. The theme lacks discernible organization; the prose is usually garbled. Mechanical errors occur frequently. In short, the paper fails to meet the minimum requirements of the assignment; the ideas, organization, and style fall far below what is acceptable college writing.