User:Jrradney/My sandbox/Essay Criteria
- 1 Evaluation Criteria
- 1.1 Research and Reflection
- 1.2 Clarity and Argument
- 1.3 Organisation
- 1.4 Style and Mechanics
This document provides an overview and summary of features of academic writing that are assessed in evaluating written work. The application of this rubric may be quite rigourous by some instructors, while others may find they use the features discussed in a more general way to assign broad grade categories. In providing this document, the author hopes neither to encourage a rigid application of trivial standards, nor to argue for unilateral evaluation of work by instructors in assigning grades; such discussions are well outside the scope of this present work. Rather, it is designed as a "tip sheet" for writers who wish to write well.
In all higher education, writing is an important skill to learn. Much of our record of progress we have made in the humanities would be lost to us, if this had not been so. There are numerous reasons for this, but an adequate explanation is beyond the scope of this present work. Suffice it to say for the present that the importance is established and will not change while present students are going through the university system, if ever.
The second thing that needs to be said in this regard is that it is important for students completing a university education to learn to write well, even though this requires significant effort. High importance is not placed upon writing because it is easy. Writing is the most difficult skill of communication common to us. Most people write poorly, and even many well-educated people could write much better than they do. Students may be wondering at this point what the difference is between good writing and poor. In part, we could say that its the difference between a text you want to read and one you don’t. However the issue is more complex (much, much more complex!) than that.
Good writing possesses four main characteristics. These characteristics are the focus of this present written work. The way these characteristics will be discussed is as the criteria that will be used to evaluate essays in university courses.
If good writing possesses four main characteristics, then we would hope that essays would be evaluated according to four main criteria. This, in fact, is the case. First and foremost, the essay is evaluated according to the quality of the ideas expressed in it. This quality is best understood to be a combination of research and reflection upon a topic. Secondly, essays are evaluated based upon the structure and clarity of the argument presented. This area is only a little less significant than the first criterion. Ranking third in importance (about half the weight of research/reflection) is the overall organization of the essay. This criterion examines the order and flow of the consideration of sub-topics within the larger work. Finally--still important, but only half that of the third criterion--is the element of lower-level style and language mechanics. The following discussion will consider each of these criteria in more detail, giving facets of each that have relevance as written work is evaluated academically.
Research and Reflection
Research and reflection is the most important feature of good academic writing. Out of a total score of 100, this feature should account for 40 points.
The scope of research and reflection refers to the relative amount of the topic area covered. Evaluators will have an impression that the topic has been covered in a balanced way, without exclusion of aspects needlessly.
The sources of a research essay need to be published works properly credited in the body of the essay and in the references section at the end of the essay. Requirements for this crediting will differ from institution to institution, from discipline to discipline, and from instructor to instructor. This feature does not concentrate upon the quality of the crediting, but upon the actual sources chosen with regard to their credibility, authority, and bias.
This aspect of the assement of written work deal with the sources used and how effectively quotations from sources were used in the discussion. A part of this evaluation concerns when writers use quotes as opposed to when they paraphrase the work being referred to. The discernment of when to quote and when to paraphrase develops with practice.
In essays that are primarily not research, but reflection, this aspect is a major part of the evaluation of the essay. However, even in essays that build upon research, writers must not merely quote and refer to the work of others in presenting their argument; rather, they must show evidence of their own unique contribution to the discussion, either by bringing together sources previously not synthesized or by extending the work of sources into new areas of discussion. This is a major difference between the academic research essay and a report on current discussions in a field. The report merely summarizes and presents the discussion; the research essay builds in some definite way upon prior research work in an area of discussion.
The level of understanding shown in a research essay is a gauge of how acceptable the ideas presented in the essay would be to a majority of practitioners in that field of study. The more inflammatory the field of discussion, the greater need there is for a balanced presentation of opposing viewpoints by students new to the field. The understanding writer does not merely (and hastily) side with a respected viewpoint on a matter, but shows subtlety, craft, and ingenuity in the approach to controversy.
Levels of Performance
Generally, performance is assessed at the following broad levels: Exceptional, Good, Minimal, Unacceptable, or Inadequate.
A fuller discussion of the aspect of research and reflection in academic writing is presented on a subpage. This more detailed discussion discusses each sub-feature in more detail and gives examples of major differences in performance levels. There is also a discussion of evaluation across a broader range of disciplines at Academic Performance Criteria.
Clarity and Argument
Clarity and argument in an essay are secondary only to the feature of research and reflection in importance. Out of a total score of 100, this feature should account for 30 points.
In a research essay, it is important to clearly state the crucial point of the discussion. This thesis statement must be obvious to readers on their very first reading of the text. It should stand out and be obvious as the main point of discussion, and this thesis must not change during the course of the essay, though the readers understanding of the thesis may change during the reading.
The argument presented in the essay must be an original idea of the writer. The thesis cannot merely be drawn from one or several of the sources research, but must make a unique contribution to the discussion.
The discussion in an essay is built around supporting its central claim (thesis). If there is a consistent understanding of the thesis throughout the essay and if all the various parts of the argument actually provide reasonable support for the thesis, then the essay is said to be coherent. Irrelevancies introduced into the discussion detract from the coherence of an essay, as do many rhetorical devices and logical fallacies.
The provision of reasonable support for an essay's thesis is crucial to the readers' acceptance of the argument presented. There are several key parts to this perception of support. First of all the evidence needs to be from multiple sources. Secondly, it must actually support the thesis on reasonable grounds. Thirdly, it must not ignore evidence to the contrary of the thesis. These are crucial parts of evaluating the evidence presented in an essay.
A well-written essay presents an argument that is fair to all sides in the discussion and does not ignore or cover-up evidence that is relevant to the discussion at hand. It is better to present a weaker but reasonable and fair argument than it is to present a compelling argument that only looks at evidence that supports the thesis claim.
Levels of Performance
Generally, performance is assessed at the following broad levels: Exceptional, Clear, Minimal, Confusing, or Inadequate.
A fuller discussion of the aspect of clarity and argumentation in academic writing is presented on a subpage. This more detailed discussion discusses each sub-feature in more detail and gives examples of major differences in performance levels. There is also a discussion of evaluation across a broader range of disciplines at Academic Performance Criteria.
Although the organization of an essay is half as important as the research and reflection aspect of the writing, poor organization can still spoil an otherwise carefully researched and clearly written work. Out of a total score of 100, this feature should account for 20 points.
In different parts of the English-speaking world there are different practices regarding the proper structure of a research essay. However, virtually all discussions of proper form in essays include a requirement that the essay be properly introduced, have a proper body of discussion of argument or research covered, and be properly concluded. Thus we may (at least) say that all essays should have a clear structure that includes an introduction, body, and conclusion. In American (U.S) academic essays, there should be a repetition of the thesis statement in each of these parts of the essay: The introduction should end with a statement of thesis; the body should immediately begin with a restatement (paraphrase) of that same thesis (possibly summarizing main supporting ideas); and the conclusion should also begin with yet another restatement of the thesis. Oftentimes, this stucture is described according to the following: Tell them what you will say, then say it, then tell them what you said.
Readers find essays hard to follow, unless writers make deliberate attempts to focus the attention of readers upon key ideas at the point where discussion turns from one part of the argument to the next. Within paragraphs, such devices as First..., Secondly..., Also..., and Finally... help readers read the paragraphs, but their are also devices that work between sections and sub-sections of essays in the same way. These are often called transitions.
Readers find that essays are easier to read when each part of the argument presented is properly developed. Essays that only state the main supports for an argument without giving adequate details are considered to be superficial in their treatment of the subject area. It is also true that readers find essays unsatisfactory when one part of an argument receives a complete discussion while others are only superficially explored. Development refers to both this aspect of completeness of discussion and balance between supporting arguments.
It is important that the supporting arguments for a thesis be presented in the proper order. Different topics require different sorts of orders of discussion. Some rationale for the order in which topics are discussed in an essay should be obvious to readers, and the discussion must not appear to skip around without a reason for the order of presentation.
In addition to the above, more specific features of discussion, there is also a general impression of readability in essays. This is a hard feature to pin down or describe more fully, but some essays with very good structure, flow, development, and order still have some aspects that make the essay hard to read. Because of this, it is important that the general feature of readability be respected as writers edit their work.
Levels of Performance
Generally, performance is assessed at the following broad levels: Exceptional, Good, Difficult, Irregular, or Chaotic.
A fuller discussion of the aspect of organization in academic writing is presented on a subpage. This more detailed discussion discusses each sub-feature in more detail and gives examples of major differences in performance levels. There is also a discussion of evaluation across a broader range of disciplines at Academic Performance Criteria.
Style and Mechanics
Style and Mechanics are again only half as important to the final essay grade as organization, but poor style and incorrect spelling, grammar, or format have an effect upon the overall communication effect and enjoyment of readers. Concentration upon style and mechanics will not ensure academic writers a positive evaluation on their works, but lack of concern and attention in this area can magnify other problems in written work. Out of a total score of 100, this feature should account for 10 points.
The point of adhering to standards of mechanics, such as grammar, spelling, punctuation, and similar features is not the conservation of a standard, but rather the promotion of a wide range of communication. For this reason, the aspect of communication as a feature of style and mechanics in writing receives a proper prominence in this discussion. If writing that ignores conventions of such things as grammar and spelling make it hard to read essays, this is one matter. However, some essays have such poor grammar, spelling, and so forth that readers are unsure what writers intended; these mistakes in writing are much more serious concerns.
Mechanics are the specific spelling, punctuation, and grammatical conventions of the community of readers that writers hope to engage. Readers find that when writers ignore such conventions their work is much more difficult to read. Many readers also consider that writers who ignore these conventions do not properly respect their own ideas or their readers.
In oratory, repetition can be a very valuable device, helping audiences remember key ideas and key progressions and persuading them of the stake speakers have in their arguments. However, repetition in writing is much less tolerated, particularly when similar syntactic structures are overused. Of course, writers need to make sure their use of syntax in discussion does not lead to confusion, but repetition of structures is generally to be avoided in discussion when possible. This is particularly true concerning the various transitional devices that are chosen by writers in an essay; variety will tend to hold readers' attention much longer than repetition.
As with the use of syntactic structures in oratory, repetition can be a very valuable device, helping audiences remember key terms in speakers' arguments. However, using the same terms over and over again in writing is boring, and vocabulary becomes trite when overused. Of course, writers need to make sure their use of synonyms in discussion does not lead to confusion, but repetition of vocabulary is generally to be avoided in discussion when possible. Skillful use of synonyms while retaining clarity in the discussion is a particularly fine skill to develop.
University level writing generally adheres to some sort of style guide. These style guides vary according to the institution, discipline, and instructor (as was stated elsewhere regarding standards for crediting sources properly). Writers need to pay close attention to these expected standards; professional writers in the private sector are also expected to adhere to standards set by companies and guilds in a number of places.
Levels of Performance
Generally, performance is assessed at the following broad levels: Exceptional, Adequate, Minimal, Confusing, or Inadequate.
A fuller discussion of the aspect of style and mechanics in academic writing is presented on a subpage. This more detailed discussion discusses each sub-feature in more detail and gives examples of major differences in performance levels. There is also a discussion of evaluation across a broader range of disciplines at Academic Performance Criteria.