Essay Marking Guide Examples

Essay Characteristics - an Example Guideline for Marking

Characteristics of an "A" Paper:

Excellent, with perhaps, one forgivable flaw.

  • Challenging thesis and clearly developed.
  • References used intelligently in argument.
  • Correct sentence/ grammatical structure.
  • Sophisticated writing style.
  • Appropriate documentation.
  • Subtlety and complexity in approach to subject.
  • Independence of thought.

Characteristics of a "B" Paper:

Good overall (i.e., does many things right).

  • Some minor errors in factual content OR
  • Some errors in terminology or general writing skills OR
  • Some lapses in clarity (i.e., vagueness, incompleteness, flaws in structure).

Characteristics of a "C" Paper:

Generally correct, with more than a few flaws.

  • Inconsistent or superficial.
  • Weakness in line of argument.
  • Dull thesis.
  • Mechanical approach to argument.
  • Lack or support.
  • Problems with basic grammar or matters of style.
  • Simplicity of thought, structure, or expression.

Characteristics of a "D" or Failing Paper

  •     Does not make its case.
  • Severe difficulties in logical structure or mechanics of expression.
  • Illogical, unsupported thinking without a line or argument.
  • Inadequate thinking about the topic.
  • Incoherent writing.

Rubrics and Marking Sheets

If you expect to be a TA an essay course it is worth your while to develop a thorough grading rubric. Although this activity can be time consuming it will save you time in the long run.

A rubric based marking sheet is a quick way to give detailed feedback in less time. It also provides quantifiable information for specific characteristics that are normally subjective and challenged by students. The sample rubric shown below was used in a third-year required course the the improvement of academic writing was a secondary course objective. The appropriate descriptor for each category would be circled and a numeric grade given for the entire paper. Rubrics should be provided to students before they begin work on an assignment or essay.


Depth/20Surface, book-report, no depth.Lacking depth in one or two areas.Appropriate for a 3rd year course.4th year or graduate level.
Clarity of ideas/15Confused interpretation of most points, or several major ideas.Confused interpretation of some minor points.At expected levels.Beyond expected levels.
Adequate sources/15Uses & and cites less than six sourcesUses & cites at least 6 sources.Minimum of 10 sources used & cited.Uses & cites more than 10 sources, or uses sources of uncommon quality.

Organization and mechanics

APA citation/10Frequent or severe errors in APA citation practices.
Minor errors in APA citation practices.All sources referenced correctly.Sources used to strengthen argument, nested referencing.
APA style/5Inattention to fundamentals of APA style.Minor errors in APA style.Reflects understanding of APA style.Utilizes APA style
conventions not addressed in class (charts, tables, diagrams, appendices, etc.).
Themes/20No thematic organization.  
Discusses 2 or 3 main themes, but uses sources sequentially
within each theme.
Integrates sources to discuss 2 or 3 themes which are clearly related.Integrates sources to
discuss one main theme,
perhaps with explicit
Correct English usage/15Frequent or severeerrors in grammar, sentence structure, or word usage.Minor errors in grammar, sentence structure, or word usage.

Appropriate for 3rd year course.


Exceptional fluency and language capacity supports communicative purpose.


Guidelines for Grading An Essay


This exercise intends to take the mystery out of grading papers.  It is true that many teachers and professors have their own “style” of grading.  But all follow some general rules of thumb when they grade your papers. 


A Good Essay

Every essay must contain three essential elements.  First, the essay must provide a thesis statement (in the introductory paragraph).  The thesis statement must encapsulate the main argument for the paper.  It must be clear and coherent, and it must answer the question that the professor has put forth to the class.  Second, the essay must offer supporting evidence.  The writer must provide the supporting evidence in paragraph (not “bullet” or list) form.  Each paragraph must contain evidence that supports one idea or concept that proves the thesis statement.  The writer must provide citations (in footnote, endnote, or paranthetical form) for all evidence presented.  Third, every essay must follow basic rules of format and grammar.  Every paper must contain a beginning (introductory paragraph), a middle (several supporting paragraphs that comprise the body of the paper), and an end (concluding paragraph).  Grammar is vital for essay composition. Sentence fragments, misspellings, and improper punctuation denote a carelessly-written and poorly-conceived paper.


Here is an outline for the paragraph above:


A Good Essay

 A.     Topic Sentence“Every essay must contain three essential elements.”

This is the main concept of the paragraph.


B.     Thesis Statement

  1. clear and coherent
  2. answers the question


C.     Supporting Evidence

  1. paragraph form
  2. evidence supports one concept that helps prove the thesis statement
  3. includes citations


D.     Paper Format and Grammar

  1. paper includes a beginning, middle, and end
  2. Proper utilization of grammar, including punctuation, spelling, subject and verb usage.


Now you must play the part of the professor.  Here is a standard guideline, adapted from several dependable sources (see footnote on previous page), that you must follow as you grade a fellow student’s paper. 


Take a record of each item missing, and subtract the total number of points from 100 (a perfect score).  Not all professors grade papers by deducting points in this fashion.  But for classroom purposes, we will assign point values.  I have devised these point values to show you the relative importance of the different elements of essay-writing.


Grading an Essay

 A.     Identify the Thesis Statement.  Does this paper have a thesis statement?  Does that thesis statement answer the question put forth in class by the professor?  Is the thesis statement clear?  Do you understand it?

No thesis statement:  -15

Thesis statement unrelated to question:  -10


B.     Supporting Evidence.  Examine each paragraph for the information below. 

  1. Identify the topic sentence for each paragraph.  This topic sentence (usually the first or second sentence of the paragraph) should resemble a mini-thesis statement.  It should contain one idea or concept.  The rest of the paragraph must present the evidence that proves that topic sentence (one idea or concept.) Does each paragraph have a topic sentence?  If not, -5 for each paragraph.


  1. Does each paragraph contain just one idea or concept? –5 for each paragraph that does not.


  1. Does this author use evidence to support his/her argument (thesis statement)?  -5 for each paragraph that lacks evidence.


  1. Has the author provided citations for his/her evidence?  -3 for each supporting paragraph that lacks a citation.


C.     Examine the paper’s format and grammar. 

  1. Does this paper have a beginning (introduction), a middle (body), and an end (conclusion)?  If it does not have all three of these, -10


  1. Examine grammar.  Circle every violation.  –2 for every single violation. If you find more than 5 violations, -15.

a.       Does this paper have proper punctuation?

b.      Are words spelled correctly?

c.       Does the author provide full and complete sentences?  There should be no sentence fragments or run-on sentences. 

d.      Does this paper have consistent verb tense, voice, and third-person usage?

e.       Are proper nouns capitalized?


At last, you must recommend a grade for this paper.  On your notecard, write a one or two sentence statement that explains this paper’s argument. If this paper is so poorly organized, conceived, and written that you are unable to determine the main idea presented here by this author, then you must assign, automatically, a failing grade (F).


Otherwise, write your statement.  Then, total the points and subtract from 100.  Write this number on the note card, and then paper clip the note card to the paper.  This is your recommended grade.  Please include your name on the note card.  Do not write your name on your fellow student’s paper.


Explanation of writing symbols on marked papers



awk      -- awkward:  sentence is clumsy, difficult to read and comprehend


frag       – sentence fragment


w/c        – word choice doesn’t express what you seem to mean


      -- paragraph; or, you need to insert new paragraph


sp          -- spelling error


cs          -- comma splice


ro          -- run-on sentence (2 independent clauses in 1 sentence without punctuation or conjunction)


rep.       – repetitive


?           -- in margin means passage is confusing or obscure; over word or phrase means I don’t                       understand its meaning.


p.                  – punctuation error


agr.      --  agreement.  Form of pronoun doesn’t agree with antecedent; verb form doesn’t agree with subject


vf         -- incorrect verb form


-- capitalize


-- join


-- strike out


-- insert

For more information on writing essays, see Peter Charles Hoffer and William B. Stueck, Reading and Writing American History:  An Introduction to the Historian’s Craft; and William Strunk and E. B. White, Elements of Style.  Other resources for writers include The Chicago Manual of Style : The Essential Guide for Writers, Editors, and Publishers (14th Edition); Marjorie E. Skillin and Robert Malcolm Gay, Words Into Type; and Kate L. Turabian, Student’s Guide for Writing College Papers.



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