Essay Characteristics - an Example Guideline for Marking

Characteristics of an "A" Paper:

Excellent, with perhaps, one forgivable flaw.

  • Challenging thesis and clearly developed.
  • References used intelligently in argument.
  • Correct sentence/ grammatical structure.
  • Sophisticated writing style.
  • Appropriate documentation.
  • Subtlety and complexity in approach to subject.
  • Independence of thought.

Characteristics of a "B" Paper:

Good overall (i.e., does many things right).

  • Some minor errors in factual content OR
  • Some errors in terminology or general writing skills OR
  • Some lapses in clarity (i.e., vagueness, incompleteness, flaws in structure).

Characteristics of a "C" Paper:

Generally correct, with more than a few flaws.

  • Inconsistent or superficial.
  • Weakness in line of argument.
  • Dull thesis.
  • Mechanical approach to argument.
  • Lack or support.
  • Problems with basic grammar or matters of style.
  • Simplicity of thought, structure, or expression.

Characteristics of a "D" or Failing Paper

  •     Does not make its case.
  • Severe difficulties in logical structure or mechanics of expression.
  • Illogical, unsupported thinking without a line or argument.
  • Inadequate thinking about the topic.
  • Incoherent writing.

Rubrics and Marking Sheets

If you expect to be a TA an essay course it is worth your while to develop a thorough grading rubric. Although this activity can be time consuming it will save you time in the long run.

A rubric based marking sheet is a quick way to give detailed feedback in less time. It also provides quantifiable information for specific characteristics that are normally subjective and challenged by students. The sample rubric shown below was used in a third-year required course the the improvement of academic writing was a secondary course objective. The appropriate descriptor for each category would be circled and a numeric grade given for the entire paper. Rubrics should be provided to students before they begin work on an assignment or essay.


0-59% 60-74% 75-89% 90-100%
Depth /20 Surface, book-report, no depth. Lacking depth in one or two areas. Appropriate for a 3rd year course. 4th year or graduate level.
Clarity of ideas /15 Confused interpretation of most points, or several major ideas. Confused interpretation of some minor points. At expected levels. Beyond expected levels.
Adequate sources /15 Uses & and cites less than six sources Uses & cites at least 6 sources. Minimum of 10 sources used & cited. Uses & cites more than 10 sources, or uses sources of uncommon quality.
Sub-total /50

Organization and mechanics

0-59% 60-74% 75-89% 90-100%
APA citation /10 Frequent or severe errors in APA citation practices.
Minor errors in APA citation practices. All sources referenced correctly. Sources used to strengthen argument, nested referencing.
APA style /5 Inattention to fundamentals of APA style. Minor errors in APA style. Reflects understanding of APA style. Utilizes APA style
conventions not addressed in class (charts, tables, diagrams, appendices, etc.).
Themes /20 No thematic organization.  
Discusses 2 or 3 main themes, but uses sources sequentially
within each theme.
Integrates sources to discuss 2 or 3 themes which are clearly related. Integrates sources to
discuss one main theme,
perhaps with explicit
Correct English usage /15 Frequent or severeerrors in grammar, sentence structure, or word usage. Minor errors in grammar, sentence structure, or word usage.

Appropriate for 3rd year course.


Exceptional fluency and language capacity supports communicative purpose.
Sub-total /50

Total /100