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Some things to consider when writing an essay.

Typically, I expect essays to be between two and four pages in length.  Essays in my classes are almost always based on your reading of a book, which I refer to as “text” below.  The topic based on this text will give you a main point or points to discuss in the essay.  You should develop your own thesis about the main point(s), and base your essay on your thesis.  The first paragraph (perhaps two) should be an introduction, and the next several paragraphs should deal with the evidence and examples you wish to give to support your thesis.  The last paragraph (perhaps two) is your conclusion.  Be sure your introduction and conclusion are not dealing with completely different ideas.

Your essay should be free from grammatical and spelling errors.  If you are hoping to write a paper that earns a grade of an A then consider the following:

An A paper is an excellent paper, one that truly stands out.  It is clearly written and flows in such a way that it really is the easiest of all papers to grade.  Any one could read this paper without any background in the topic and feel that they had learned something of interest related to the topic and text.  An A paper doesn't simply list a series of key points that are useful in answering the question; it adds creative ideas and insights that helps the reader come to an understanding of the topic, and/or it sheds new light on the topic.  The author of this paper has demonstrated that they have a clear understanding of the topic and the text, and they have done an excellent job of citing the text.

A B paper is an above average; it is a strong, very good paper.  It also will be well written and have a nice flow to its grammar and sentence structure.  There may be a few minor problems with grammar or sentence structure, but not many, or it will no longer be a good paper.  A B paper stays focused on the topic and does a strong job of using the text to support key points, but it typically does not add anything to the subject that is new or original.  The author will generally provide good citations to the text, but some improvement might be needed.

A C paper is by definition an average paper.  The author of this paper has clearly shown that they have read the text and answered the question.  The writing of the paper is plainly not excellent nor is it very good.  The author of this kind of a paper can always improve it by giving careful attention to proof reading for sentence structure, punctuation, and spelling.  Text citation is quite often weak, as the author often isn’t sure when to cite the text, or use a quote, or how to develop evidence from the text in order to support a key point.  A C paper needs further development, and students often complain that they felt they didn't have enough space or time to develop their essay.  Don't rely on this faulty argument.  If you have a key point that you want to address then be sure to develop it and show that you have used the text to support it.

A D paper is below average and an F paper is very far below average.  Few serious students will ever turn in such a paper.  Even a brief reading of such a paper sometimes reveals that the student either hasn't read the text or thoughtfully considered the topic.  Such papers are often difficult to understand because of consistently poor grammar, punctuation, sentence and paragraph structure, and/or a lack of focus.

A word on what you will see when you get your papers back.

I will put checks or write good in the margins where there are good ideas, good sentences, and things that are well supported or well said.  Sentences that have problems for a variety of reasons, such as not being clear, or contain fragments, or run-on, or have spelling errors, or problems with tense, will be marked with question marks or circles to indicate problem areas.  You may also see brief commentary marks to indicate the problems, for example:

1) Awk, run-on, comma splice = this indicates a sentence that is not grammatical, perhaps the tense is mixed, or words are used improperly.  The sentence may contain run-ons or fragments.

2) Sp = spelling error (sometimes corrected in the text)

3) ? = vague sentence, lack of clarity in your idea, a sentence that seems quite off the point

4) CT or citation = this means you should have cited the text to support your key point

5) Dev or more = this means you should have developed a point better

The ideal paper will have check marks, a good here and there, and a comment at the end a comment at the end reinforcing the quality of the paper!  When you see marginal notations such as those listed above begin to pile up, you’ll know that you are getting back a paper that is most likely a C or a D, with perhaps an end comment that suggests where you need more work.  If you only have one or two or these marginal comments then you have probably written a B paper.

With this I want to wish you all good luck with your writing.  Believe me, I am on your side.  I want to see all of you write excellent papers that earn an A grade, or at least write above average papers that earn a B.  If you strive to be careful in your work, write and rewrite, do some careful proof reading, stay on topic and do a clear job of citing the text, then you should do pretty well.

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