Grade Policies

How Papers are Graded

Many students would like English papers to be graded the way arithmetic papers are graded. This is probably why I get questions like "I fixed this comma. Can I have another point?" They do not realize that there is a lot more to good writing than simply getting a lot of details correct.

First the rubric

Rubric = a guide listing specific criteria for grading or scoring academic papers, projects, or tests (Merriam-Webster dictionary, fourth definition)

When I grade your paper, I will begin by marking it and making marginal notes. Then I will go to this rubric and attempt to find statements in each of the five vertical columns which describe the paper you submitted. Adding up the numbers in the five horizontal rows will normally give a grade for the paper, but there are some exceptions to that rule.

Then the comments

I won't cover everything on the comment sheet because I already marked the paper and the rubric (and you should look at both of those). I will try to explain things a bit more fully and to "fry the biggest fish first." If several areas of the paper need improvement, but one is really the big one, that is the one I will comment on. This doesn't mean the others are unimportant, just that I assume you can read the other comments for yourself.

The "barrel of sewage" rule

If I have a barrel of sewage and add a cup of fine French wine, I still have a barrel of sewage.

Oddly enough, if I have a barrel of fine French wine and add a cup of sewage, I now have a barrel of sewage.

The point of this is that a smart, insightful paper can be totally ruined by terrible spelling and grammar, but excellent spelling and grammar will not save a foolish, stupid paper.

If, for example you submit a paper that has:

  • Sharp, distinct controlling point/thesis about a single topic
  • All formal parts of the paper fully developed
  • Precise, illustrative use of a variety of words and sentence structures
  • Grammatically correct prose that is highly appropriate to the audience.

But the content:

  • Attempts to support ideas with appeals to the author's feelings or with statements that are false or misread source material.

You have essentially done a great job of writing a pack of lies (or at least unsupported guesses and misreadings). Going by the numbers alone, that is an 80% paper, which should be worth a B−, but such a paper is not "above average." Going by the "cup of sewage" rule, I would say that such a paper has significant problems and is not acceptable college-level writing (and is worth a D).

In some cases, a strict application of the rubric gives a false impression of the paper; in such cases, I will revert to a holistic answer to the question, "Is this paper any good?"

The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by Ashland University.
Revised 7/23/19 • Page author: Curtis Allen • e-mail: