Guidelines for Grading An Essay


This exercise intends to take the mystery out of grading papers.  It is true that many teachers and professors have their own “style” of grading.  But all follow some general rules of thumb when they grade your papers. 


A Good Essay

Every essay must contain three essential elements.  First, the essay must provide a thesis statement (in the introductory paragraph).  The thesis statement must encapsulate the main argument for the paper.  It must be clear and coherent, and it must answer the question that the professor has put forth to the class.  Second, the essay must offer supporting evidence.  The writer must provide the supporting evidence in paragraph (not “bullet” or list) form.  Each paragraph must contain evidence that supports one idea or concept that proves the thesis statement.  The writer must provide citations (in footnote, endnote, or paranthetical form) for all evidence presented.  Third, every essay must follow basic rules of format and grammar.  Every paper must contain a beginning (introductory paragraph), a middle (several supporting paragraphs that comprise the body of the paper), and an end (concluding paragraph).  Grammar is vital for essay composition. Sentence fragments, misspellings, and improper punctuation denote a carelessly-written and poorly-conceived paper.[1]


Here is an outline for the paragraph above:


A Good Essay

 A.     Topic Sentence “Every essay must contain three essential elements.”

This is the main concept of the paragraph.


B.     Thesis Statement

  1. clear and coherent
  2. answers the question


C.     Supporting Evidence

  1. paragraph form
  2. evidence supports one concept that helps prove the thesis statement
  3. includes citations


D.     Paper Format and Grammar

  1. paper includes a beginning, middle, and end
  2. Proper utilization of grammar, including punctuation, spelling, subject and verb usage.


Now you must play the part of the professor.  Here is a standard guideline, adapted from several dependable sources (see footnote on previous page), that you must follow as you grade a fellow student’s paper. 


Take a record of each item missing, and subtract the total number of points from 100 (a perfect score).  Not all professors grade papers by deducting points in this fashion.  But for classroom purposes, we will assign point values.  I have devised these point values to show you the relative importance of the different elements of essay-writing.


Grading an Essay

 A.     Identify the Thesis Statement.  Does this paper have a thesis statement?  Does that thesis statement answer the question put forth in class by the professor?  Is the thesis statement clear?  Do you understand it?

No thesis statement:  -15

Thesis statement unrelated to question:  -10


B.     Supporting Evidence.  Examine each paragraph for the information below. 

  1. Identify the topic sentence for each paragraph.  This topic sentence (usually the first or second sentence of the paragraph) should resemble a mini-thesis statement.  It should contain one idea or concept.  The rest of the paragraph must present the evidence that proves that topic sentence (one idea or concept.) Does each paragraph have a topic sentence?  If not, -5 for each paragraph.


  1. Does each paragraph contain just one idea or concept? –5 for each paragraph that does not.


  1. Does this author use evidence to support his/her argument (thesis statement)?  -5 for each paragraph that lacks evidence.


  1. Has the author provided citations for his/her evidence?  -3 for each supporting paragraph that lacks a citation.


C.     Examine the paper’s format and grammar.  

  1. Does this paper have a beginning (introduction), a middle (body), and an end (conclusion)?  If it does not have all three of these, -10


  1. Examine grammar.  Circle every violation.  –2 for every single violation. If you find more than 5 violations, -15.

a.       Does this paper have proper punctuation?

b.      Are words spelled correctly?

c.       Does the author provide full and complete sentences?  There should be no sentence fragments or run-on sentences. 

d.      Does this paper have consistent verb tense, voice, and third-person usage?

e.       Are proper nouns capitalized?


At last, you must recommend a grade for this paper.  On your notecard, write a one or two sentence statement that explains this paper’s argument. If this paper is so poorly organized, conceived, and written that you are unable to determine the main idea presented here by this author, then you must assign, automatically, a failing grade (F).


Otherwise, write your statement.  Then, total the points and subtract from 100.  Write this number on the note card, and then paper clip the note card to the paper.  This is your recommended grade.  Please include your name on the note card.  Do not write your name on your fellow student’s paper.


Explanation of writing symbols on marked papers



awk      -- awkward:  sentence is clumsy, difficult to read and comprehend


frag       – sentence fragment


w/c        – word choice doesn’t express what you seem to mean


      -- paragraph; or, you need to insert new paragraph


sp          -- spelling error


cs          -- comma splice


ro          -- run-on sentence (2 independent clauses in 1 sentence without punctuation or conjunction)


rep.       – repetitive


?           -- in margin means passage is confusing or obscure; over word or phrase means I don’t                       understand its meaning.


p.                  – punctuation error


agr.      --  agreement.  Form of pronoun doesn’t agree with antecedent; verb form doesn’t agree with subject


vf         -- incorrect verb form


-- capitalize


-- join


-- strike out


-- insert

[1] For more information on writing essays, see Peter Charles Hoffer and William B. Stueck, Reading and Writing American History:  An Introduction to the Historian’s Craft; and William Strunk and E. B. White, Elements of Style.  Other resources for writers include The Chicago Manual of Style : The Essential Guide for Writers, Editors, and Publishers (14th Edition); Marjorie E. Skillin and Robert Malcolm Gay, Words Into Type; and Kate L. Turabian, Student’s Guide for Writing College Papers.