Have you heard the old saw that an infinite number of chimps, working on an infinite number of word processors, would eventually type out Hamlet? All of you are a lot smarter than any number of primates, but you don't have an infinite number of weeks to get things "perfect" for me or any other professor. I hope this page will demystify how I grade written work.
In general, as I grade papers I consider errors in thinking--cloudy thesis statements, digressions, missed transitions, failures to follow the assignment--as the most serious errors. No paper with even a single error of those sorts would earn an A. While I do not give as much weight to grammatical and stylistic errors, at least early in the semester, when they begin to detract from my reading of your paper (I have to stop and say "huh?") they hurt your grade. See my Pet Peeves list for details.
Use your spell-check, have a dictionary handy, and use Writer's Web to check on mechanics and grammar. Always read your final draft aloud; you will catch dozens of small errors that way. Even though you might have your paper critiqued in an editing group for class, you will want to start early and make an appointment with a tutor at the Writing Center .
Exceptions are possible, and these characteristics
of various papers are not carved in stone; a paper that does several
things very well and one poorly might not fare as badly as one
that does everything in a sloppy way:
A: Outstanding, almost flawless work; very few papers in each class earn this grade. Papers earning a grade of A must show creativity, engagement and understanding of the assignment, and, when appropriate for the assignment, critical use of sources, in print and on-line, and from transcripts of online work.
An A paper about two texts or subjects would also include a superb sense of organization--it would not simply be "two mini essays." See the Writer's Web worksheet on Multiple-Subject Papers for more information.
First, the writer did not follow the assignment. Second, Any paper lacking a thesis or controlling idea, if the assignment mandated that, would probably earn a D. Third, a paper that did not support its arguments logically or with sources might earn a D, even if it were fine otherwise.
I've rarely assigned a D on the basis of grammar and style alone; normally, something has to be seriously wrong with the focus, support, and organization of a paper for it to earn a D.
An F paper is similar to a D paper, but
the errors are even more pronounced or the paper is incomplete. A Core 102 student once ran into class with only five pages of a six-page essay. He had not forgotten a page; the fifth page just ended in mid-sentence. He earned an F.
Zero: If the paper is never submitted, or if a writer turns in a piece of paper with her/his name and nothing else, then the work wasn't done. Worse than F papers; a single "zero" can be grounds for failing the course.