Essay Grade Criteria

Portfolio Readiness

Essays are graded on the basis of their readiness for your end-of-Semester Portfolio. No matter how good a first draft is, if it wouldn’t earn an A in your Portfolio, it won’t earn an A as a first draft.

  • The disadvantage of this system is that your early drafts will often earn very low grades.
  • The advantage of this system is that you’ll know when you can stop revising.

Competencies Graded

Essays are graded for their Argument, their Rhetoric, their Scholarship, and their Mechanics. Each draft will be given a letter grade for each competency and averaged for an overall grade for the draft. A draft that earns an A for Argument, a B for Rhetoric, a B for Scholarship, and a C for Mechanics, will be graded B.


Argument grades measure the logic and persuasiveness of the essay.

  • Essays that appeal to readers’ logic, their reasonableness, their humanity, their sense of justice and ethics score better than those that do not.
  • Essays that guide readers through an argument step by step (whether those steps are explicit or tacit) earn better grades than those that do not.
  • Essays that provide just-in-time evidence, that anticipate and refute the most important objections to their premises, that offer concrete and specific illustrations and examples and avoid vague generalities earn better grades than those that do not.


Rhetoric grades measure the author’s language abilities.

  • Clarity and brevity are prized qualities that earn the highest grades.
  • Sentence flow and paragraph organization grade well too.
  • The best essays adhere to the mantra: Complex Ideas Clearly Expressed.
  • Authorial tone should match the argument type: Careful declaratives for logical arguments, for example; rhetorical flourishes for emotional appeals.


The course requires its graduates to demonstrate basic competency in English grammar, punctuation, and syntax.

  • Essays that violate a few Basic Grammar Rules will fail regardless of passing grades in the other three competencies.
  • Essays that demonstrate a high facility with complex language (including the ability to precisely describe complex ideas without creating confusion) score better than those that do not.


The course emphasizes academic research and integrity.

  • Essays that are well researched and show evidence that their authors are familiar with the subject matter score better than those that do not.
  • Essays that make good use of sources to prove their thesis statements and arguments score better than those that do not.
  • Essays that comply with academic standards for citation and acknowledgment score better than those that do not (those that do not, often fail).