Here are the general criteria that I use for evaluating your papers. Grading is an inexact science. What you will find below are some very general criteria. Actual papers often do not exhibit all the strengths and weaknesses that I have associated with a particular grade below, thus particular judgments are required for each individual work. These guidelines should give you, however, some idea of how I interpret the different grades and what I expect from your papers. I hope that this help to demystify the grading process.
Your papers will be graded based on
(a) content (strength, persuasiveness, relevance and originality of your argument)
(b) structure (clarity of exposition and organization)
(c) use of evidence (quality and appropriateness of supporting evidence and examples)
(d) presentation, grammar and style
The overall quality of the philosophical argument is the most important consideration, but in philosophical writing cogency and clarity go together. Great insights that you cannot express clearly usually turn out to be not very good insights. One caveat about originality. I reward originality and I do encourage you to take intellectual risks in your philosophical writing, but being creative is not your primary concern. Your first and foremost concern is to offer a philosophical argument that withstands rational scrutiny, regardless of its novelty.
Although there is not a formal `curve' in my grading, you have to understand that there is a comparative aspect to it. This is true both for the grading of single assignments and for the final grade. Last but not least, in calculating the final grade for the course, I will take into account the progress that you've made over the course of the semester. So do not be discouraged if the grade in the first assignment is low. You have to learn how to write philosophical prose. If you work at it, you will see your grades improve over the semester and my final assessment will take this improvement into account.
Content: The paper presents a thesis that is clear, easily identifiable, plausible, adequately supported, sophisticated and insightful. It says something novel, either an original idea or synthesis of ideas, that goes beyond the mere rehearsal of course material. The argument is fresh and exciting, drawing novel and illuminating connections between different topics and shows that the issues raised by the paper are important. The author shows a sophisticated interpretation and analysis of the issues. The argument is clear, reasonable and logically flawless. The author takes into account and successfully defuses counterarguments to her thesis. The exploration of the issue is articulate and thorough. The author demonstrates an understanding of the complexity of the issue without sacrificing the clarity of exposition.
Structure: The structure is clear and understandable. The paper proceeds by smooth and justified transitions from point to point. The argumentation is persuasive and graceful. The process is effective. The author speaks with a distinctive and consistent voice. The paper flows seamlessly.
Use of evidence: The main thesis and the various points are adequately buttressed either by interesting and appropriate examples or careful and close readings of passages from the primary texts and secondary literature. Quoted material is well integrated into the main texts. The paper shows a serious engagement with the primary texts.
Presentation and Grammar: there are minimal to no typos, spelling and punctuation errors. The grammar and diction is excellent.
The Difference Between A and A-
A is reserved for truly outstanding papers. Those that move the reader by a combination of cogency of argumentation, freshness of ideas and excellence in writing. This grade is not a reward for hard work, but for originality and insight. The author in the paper has taken some intellectual risks that have paid off, rather than simply give some straightforward answer to a philosophical or interpretive problem. This is a grade that must make you proud of your work.
An A- paper is an excellent paper. It is a work of high quality that goes beyond a clear restatement of the class material. It shows genuine philosophical engagement with a problem. The originality of the argument or interpretation might be offset by some minor problems in the argument or the presentation, which prevent the paper from being marked a solid A. Writing an A- paper is nonetheless a significant intellectual achievement.
Content: The discussion of the topic is promising and shows an attempt at critical comment or appraisal. It might however be slightly unclear or lack in insight or originality. It shows understanding of the material and a basic appreciation of its complexity, even if the different implications of the thesis might not be fully worked out. Some counterarguments are successfully defused, others only acknowledged and not properly addressed. The argument is coherent, careful and logical, although at times uninspired.
Structure: The paper is generally well-structured and thoughtful. It may wander occasionally. There is a logical progression of ideas, although some transitions might be somewhat unclear and the different parts of the paper might not match up as well as they might.
Use of evidence: Examples and references to the literature are used to support most points. They might occasionally be inappropriate or unclear. The views of other philosophers are not seriously misrepresented.
Presentation and Grammar: The paper is easily readable with at most occasional grammatical or spelling errors. The prose is effective at communicating the main ideas of the paper. Word choice is accurate and precise.
The Difference Between B+ and B
A B+ paper is a very good paper. It is a clear, well-written and well-argued paper. There might be some minor flaws or ambiguities, but they do not detract from the readability and cogency of the paper. Anyone putting a serious effort in thinking about the material and learning how to write a philosophy essay should be able to achieve this grade.
A B+ paper shows more promise and originality than a B paper, but it does not stand out in the way in which an A- paper does. Often the author understands the class material well, but does not add much to it. Or she might not have fully or convincingly developed her original insight.
A B paper is a solid and competent paper, with no serious mistakes and misunderstandings. It is crucial to a B paper that it shows engagement with a philosophical problem: it presents the problem, it shows why it is an important problem, and discusses some response to it (It is not necessary that it solves the problem, however. It might simply show that a certain response to the problem is not going to work).
Content: The paper is competent but predictable. It merely summarizes or paraphrases the course material, but no in-depth analysis. Shows a basic understanding of the material, but there might be serious mistakes in the argument. Or the paper makes only a minimal attempt at engaging with a problem. The problem is stated correctly, but the author does not consider a response to it, or it does not defend it even against the most obvious counter-arguments.
Structure: The paper is unclear. Transitions are few or weak. The paper sometimes jumps around. The structure of the paper is not straightforward. The introduction, development and conclusion of the paper do not match up very well.
Use of evidence: Use of adequate supporting evidence or examples is limited. Examples might be unclear, evidence inappropriate. Quotes may be poorly integrated or left unanalyzed. The author might seriously misinterpret the work of others or give only a cursory reading of it.
Presentation and Grammar: There are several grammatical and spelling errors. The writing is still comprehensible, but understanding the paper might require effort on the readerís part.
The Difference Between B- and C+
Papers that fall under this category are acceptable, but show problems that need to be addressed. Problems become more serious in the case of a C+ paper. The structure and the writing are particularly unclear. There are serious misunderstanding of the issue or logical mistakes in the argument. The paper, however, shows some effort and willingness to write in a philosophical manner.
Do not be discouraged if you get a B- or C+ grade on your first paper. The ability to write good philosophical prose does not come naturally, it has to be learnt. If you make a serious effort at acquiring it, you will see significant improvement in the quality of your writing during the semester.
If you wrote a paper that falls in this category, something is really starting to go wrong. The paper has some rather serious flaws (the more serious or the more numerous, the lower the grade, of course). Do not worry, however, is unlikely that your paper has all of these problem. It is unlikely that your paper has all of these problems. You must therefore make a point of seeing me to receive individual advice on how to improve your writing.
Content: The argument is inconsistent, vague and unimaginative. The argument might be very hard to identify. Or the paper just strings together related ideas, but does not attempt to organize them in the form of an argument. The paper just summarizes or narrates, but does not engage in philosophical argument.
Structure: Unclear, often because thesis is weak or non-existent. Transitions are confusing or non-existent. The paper lacks unity or organization.
Use of evidence: Evidence and examples are not used, or used inappropriately and/or ineffectively. Primary and secondary sources are seriously misinterpreted. There is a general failure to support statements, or evidence seems to support no statement.
Presentation: Serious problems in sentence structure, grammar, diction, punctuation and spelling to the point of interfering with the understanding of the prose and frustrating the reader.
Papers that have one or more of the following problems:
The assignment is not completed.
The paper does not fulfill the assignment. It is either utterly irrelevant or shows not attempt at all at addressing and engaging with the problem
The paper shows obviously minimal lack of effort to understand and complete the assignment.
The paper is marred by egregious examples of the problems typical of† `Barely acceptable papersí (see above)
Portions of the paper may be plagiarized
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