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Definition of Grades

John Tatter
Professor of English



Although grading papers is a subjective process that differs slightly from class to class, there are certain standards that can be applied across the board to papers written for college courses. Students who are interested in what level of quality is necessary to attain a particular grade, as well as students who wish to understand more clearly why a particular paper earned a particular grade, should consult the table below.

The "A" Paper

For a paper to earn an "A" (to be distinctive) it must do the following:
  • meet any and all specific requirements, such as topic or format, of the assignment
  • demonstrate a clear internal purpose beyond the fact that it was assigned for the course
  • begin with an introduction that makes that purpose clear and that indicates the scope and organization of the material to follow
  • reveal a thoughtful organization throughout the body -- an organization made clear by appropriate transitions
  • consist of paragraphs that are 1) unified on a particular topic, 2) developed with significant, appropriate, and clear examples, and 3) coherent in their presentation of material
  • end with a conclusion -- that is, it's final section must draw conclusions from the material presented in the body
  • demonstrate facility with complex sentence structure designed to express complex ideas: appropriate and effective use of coordination, subordination, and parallelism on the sentence level
  • use proper manuscript form, including quotation and documentation form (MLA style)
  • be free of errors in logic
  • be free of spelling, grammar, and mechanical errors

The "B" Paper

For a paper to earn a "B" (to be very good) it must do the following:
  • meet any and all specific requirements, such as topic or format, of the assignment
  • demonstrate a clear internal purpose beyond the fact that it was assigned for the course
  • begin with an introduction that makes that purpose clear and that indicates the scope and organization of the material to follow
  • reveal a thoughtful organization throughout the body -- an organization made clear by appropriate transitions
  • consist of paragraphs that are 1) unified on a particular topic, 2) developed with significant, appropriate, and clear examples, and 3) coherent in their presentation of material
  • end with a conclusion -- that is, it's final section must draw conclusions from the material presented in the body
  • use proper manuscript form, including quotation and documentation form (MLA style)

The "C" Paper

For a paper to earn a "C" (to be satisfactory) it must do the following:
  • meet any and all specific requirements, such as topic or format, of the assignment
  • begin with an introduction that indicates the scope and organization of the material to follow
  • consist of paragraphs that are 1) organized as indicated, 2) unified on a particular topic, 3) developed with examples, and 3) coherent in their presentation of material
  • end with a conclusion -- that is, it's final section must draw conclusions from the material presented in the body
  • use proper manuscript form, including quotation and documentation form (MLA style)

The "D" Paper

For a paper to earn a "D" (to be unsatisfactory but passing) it must do the following:
  • meet any and all specific requirements, such as topic or format, of the assignment
  • begin with an introduction that indicates the scope and organization of the material to follow
  • consist of paragraphs that are organized as indicated and -- more often than not -- unified on a particular topic, developed with examples, and coherent in their presentation of material
  • end with a conclusion that at least attempts to draw conclusions from the material presented in the body
Unsatisfactory aspects of a "D" paper may include the following:
  • insufficient material to address the topic
  • inclusion of material unrelated to the topic
  • significant errors in logic
  • numerous errors in manuscript form, including quotation and documentation form (MLA style)
  • numerous errors in spelling, grammar, and mechanics

The "F" Paper

A paper will earn an "F" (fail) if it disregards specific requirements -- such as topic or format -- of the assignment, or if it does three or more of the following:
  • fails to begin with an introduction that indicates the scope and organization of the material to follow
  • fails to address the scope or follow the organization indicated in the introduction
  • contains a significant number of paragraphs that are either not unified on a particular topic, not developed with examples, or not coherent in their presentation of material
  • fails to end with a conclusion that draws conclusions from the material presented in the body
  • fails to present sufficient material to address the topic
  • includes a significant amount of material unrelated to the topic
  • reveals significant errors in logic
  • contains numerous errors in manuscript form, including quotation and documentation form (MLA style)
  • contains numerous errors in spelling, grammar, and mechanics



John D. Tatter, Birmingham-Southern College, jtatter@bsc.edu