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Grading comments for essays on literature: Revision

The Essay as a Whole

1. Thesis

The thesis comes out clearly

The thesis needs to be more clearly stated

Superior argument: extraordinary synthesis of analytic ideas & command of course material

Very good argument, showing good comprehension and engagement with course material

The thesis needs to be strengthened

The thesis needs to be more closely related to its supporting points and/or textual evidence

The essay does not address its chosen topic, but deals partially or entirely with another concern


2. Organization and coherence

The organization of the essay is clear

The essay needs to be more clearly organized

The essay is organized more according to the plot of the text(s) it discusses than according to the analytic points that would best support the thesis

The essay makes some viable points, but the points are presented randomly at times; the essay needs more structure for its argument


3. Paragraphs

Each paragraph is unified around a clear main point

Some paragraphs include details or discussion unrelated to their main points

Paragraphing needs work (as a rule of thumb, think of PIE: each paragraph in a critical essay needs a Point, an Illustration, and an Explanation).


4. Transitions

The transitions work well between paragraphs

Edit for more effective transitions between paragraphs


5. Supporting arguments

Thesis is well supported by argument and analysis

Supporting arguments need further evidence from the text(s)

Supporting points are too general and need to become more concrete

Supporting arguments need more elaboration and/or evidence to better defend their claims

Supporting discussion give more plot summary than is necessary, crowding out the substance of the argument

Supporting discussion is almost completely plot summary

Supporting analysis needs to consider textual details and literary composition more fully. That is, the arguments that comprise an essay in literary criticism should talk about the writing in the text -- not so much what a text says, but how it says it. (For more on this point, see Prof. Jack Lynch's explanation of close reading.)

Supporting discussions contain many details that need connection to analytic points


[For comparative essays]

The grounds of comparison between texts are clear

The grounds of comparison between texts need to be clearer

The essay discusses too many texts for an assignment of its scope and word count (essays of comparison and contrast should stick to two or at most three texts)


6. Introduction

The introduction fits the body of the essay

The essay needs a clearer introduction

The essay’s introduction could open with finer focus on the text(s) under discussion


7. Conclusion

The conclusion is effective

The conclusion repeats the introduction without varying wording enough

The conclusion could better close the argument with an “open question” for your reader


Sentence by Sentence

 1. Wordiness:

Sentences are clear and well worded

Edit sentences for excess wordiness


2. Credibility:

The thesis demonstrates unusually excellent independent thinking

The thesis is credible and makes a reasonable claim

The thesis is implausible /

The thesis makes an implausible supporting argument; see

The essay misreads some textual evidence; see

The essay contains factual errors; see

The essay makes hasty, sweeping, or otherwise insupportable generalizations; see

The essay suggests a need for closer engagement with (and greater comprehension of) course material


3. Grammar:

Edit for run-on sentences (statements needing more than one sentence)

Edit for sentence fragments (statements less than a full sentence)?

Edit for subject-verb disagreements

Edit for subject-modifier disagreements

Edit to correct parallel constructions in sentences

Edit to place modifiers as close as possible to the words they modify


4. Punctuation:

Edit for recurring punctuation errors in comma use

Edit for recurring punctuation errors in semicolon use

Edit for recurring punctuation errors in colon use

Edit for recurring punctuation errors in quotation-mark use


5. Spelling:

The essay needs closer proofreading

Edit for recurring spelling errors, e.g.:


6. Handling and accuracy of quotations:

Quotations are punctuated correctly

Edit to punctuate quotations correctly; please refer to MLA citation format:

 Quotations are integrated effectively into the prose

Edit to integrate quotations more effectively and less awkwardly into the prose

Check accuracy of quotations

Edit quotations to conform to MLA citation format:

The essay quotes extensively but needs more supporting commentary. Try to quote more selectively and discuss specifically what you want your reader to see in a quotation

The arguments would be stronger with more quotation of textual evidence and/or examples

The essay is well substantiated with judicious examples and/or textual evidence

The essay makes strong connections between examples/evidence and analytic ideas

The essay makes good use of examples and/or textual evidence


7. Word choice:

Some awkward wording

Some unclear choice of words

Some wording is unnecessarily complicated

Good use of critical terms for literary study

Unclear use of critical terms for literary study

Essay could benefit from use of critical terms for literary study, e.g.


8. Sentence style:

Essay is persuasively written and eloquent

Sentence structures are varied in length and structure

Sentence structures are repetitive; edit to vary wording

Edit long / complicated sentences for concision and clarity

The essay has a distracting number of writing errors: e.g. spelling, grammar, punctuation. Please contact the AU Write Site for coaching and feedback on academic writing:


Adapted from:

Rooke, Constance. The Clear Path: A Guide to Writing English Essays. 2nd ed. Toronto: Nelson, 2000.

Shepard, Alan. English 3120: Shakespearean Receptions. Undergraduate lecture syllabus, School of English and Theatre Studies, U of Guelph, 2003.

See also the English 255 Marking Scheme, which outlines grading criteria with which the above comments are consistent, but is more generally applicable to writing across the curriculum.

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