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Grading Standards

The following descriptions should give you some sense of how professors in the History Department will grade your papers:

The A paper:

The A paper successfully addresses all of the questions in the "Guide to Effective Revision." It is lively, original, and thought-provoking. The paper is a joy to read and reveals a mind deeply engaged in the subject at hand. One is convinced that the writer cares for his or her ideas, as well as for the language and forms that convey these ideas.

The B paper:

The B paper, too, successfully addresses all of the questions in the "Guide to Effective Revision." It is always mechanically correct. The spelling is good and the punctuation is accurate. Above all, the paper makes sense throughout. It has a thesis that is focused and worth arguing. It does not contain unexpected digressions and proves the argument established in the introduction. The reader of a B paper knows exactly what the author wants to say. The paper is well organized and presents a worthwhile and interesting idea. This idea is supported by sound evidence presented in a neat and orderly way in accordance with recognized conventions for citing evidence. Some of the sentences may be unwieldy now and then, but they are organized around one main idea. The reader does not have to read a paragraph two or three times to get the thought that the writer is trying to convey.

The C paper:

The C paper has a thesis, but it is vague or too broad, or else it is uninteresting and obvious. It does not advance an argument that anyone might care to debate: for example, "Thomas Jefferson wrote some interesting letters." The thesis in the C paper frequently hangs on some personal opinion. Opinion is often the engine that drives an argument, but opinion by itself is never sufficient. The writer must defend an opinion in a persuasive fashion. This requires marshalling textual proof, but the C paper rarely uses evidence well; sometimes it does not use evidence at all. Even if it has a clear and interesting thesis, a paper with insufficient supporting evidence is a C paper. The C paper often has mechanical faults and errors in grammar and spelling. Please note that a paper without such faults may still be a C paper. A paper with such faults, however, will never be more than a C paper.

The unsatisfactory paper:

The D or F paper is filled with mechanical faults, errors in grammar, and spelling mistakes. The paragraphs do not hold together; ideas do not develop from sentence to sentence. This paper usually repeats the same thoughts again and again, perhaps in slightly different language but often in the same words. The D or F paper either has no thesis or else it has one that is strikingly vague, broad, or uninteresting. There is little indication that the writer understands the material being presented. The D or F paper fails to address the question at hand.

**The text for the "Department Grading Standards" is based in part on documents handed out by the Harvard University Core program.


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