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Evaluation Criteria for Formal Essays

Evaluation Criteria for Formal Essays


Katherine Milligan

Please note that these four categories are interdependent. For example, if your evidence is weak, this will almost certainly affect the quality of your argument and organization. Likewise, if you have difficulty with syntax, it is to be expected that your transitions will suffer. In revision, therefore, take a holistic approach to improving your essay, rather than focussing exclusively on one aspect.


An excellent paper:

Argument: The paper knows what it wants to say and why it wants to say it. It goes beyond pointing out comparisons to using them to change the reader?s vision.
Organization: Every paragraph supports the main argument in a coherent way, and clear transitions point out why each new paragraph follows the previous one.
Evidence: Concrete examples from texts support general points about how those texts work. The paper provides the source and significance of each piece of evidence.
Mechanics: The paper uses correct spelling and punctuation. In short, it generally exhibits a good command of academic prose.


A mediocre paper:

Argument: The paper replaces an argument with a topic, giving a series of related observations without suggesting a logic for their presentation or a reason for presenting them.
Organization: The observations of the paper are listed rather than organized. Often, this is a symptom of a problem in argument, as the framing of the paper has not provided a path for evidence to follow.
Evidence: The paper offers very little concrete evidence, instead relying on plot summary or generalities to talk about a text. If concrete evidence is present, its origin or significance is not clear.
Mechanics: The paper contains frequent errors in syntax, agreement, pronoun reference, and/or punctuation.


An appallingly bad paper:

Argument: The paper lacks even a consistent topic, providing a series of largely unrelated observations.
Organization: The observations are listed rather than organized, and some of them do not appear to belong in the paper at all. Both paper and paragraphs lack coherence.
Evidence: The paper offers no concrete evidence from the texts or misuses a little evidence.
Mechanics: The paper contains constant and glaring errors in syntax, agreement, reference, spelling, and/or punctuation.