Criteria for Writing about Literature
The syllabi for Studies in Literature, and for other courses that fulfill the Reading Imaginative Literature requirement for Westmont’s General Education, tell students that these courses will focus on writing, and on improving the students’ ability to write about literature. Specifically, the English Department faculty agree that in general-education, writing-intensive, literature courses, you should be required to write to “express yourself clearly, cogently, and grammatically; to develop the ability to distinguish information from opinion; to marshal evidence in support of points you wish to make; to disagree with others without expressing disrespect and to agree with others without plagiarizing their views; to structure your presentation of ideas in ways that prove persuasive; and to use words skillfully, craft sentences forcefully, and develop paragraphs robustly.”
Writing, though, never happens in a vacuum. Nor does the teaching of writing. Different writers usefully take a variety of paths to achieving the writing skills that faculty expect of students by the time they finish Studies in Literature, and different instructors will emphasize different aspects of developing those skills at various points in the semester. Yet all English Department faculty want students to reach this same goal of writing energetic, thoughtful, engaged essays about literature, and to have at least some glimpse of how that kind of writing helps all of us become the kind of educated, faithful, lively Christians the college hopes for in its graduates.The English Department faculty teach writing through conversation. A part of that conversation happens in providing written feedback on papers. It also happens in class discussion on days faculty make assignments and when they return essays. The conversation can happen at its best when students come to office hours with a draft of an essay before the final paper is due. In other words, students have some responsibility for participating in an effective conversation that happens over the course of the semester to improve their writing. Listening well, asking questions about writing, and taking ownership of the opportunities to improve as a writer and a reader enhance the conversation.
The criteria for letter grades on the reverse side of this handout assume that students learn to write at Westmont in conversation with faculty and with each other. Notice that how well a writer responds to previous feedback plays a part in each letter grade. If you’re not sure what you need to do to improve your writing, ask.
Finally, though they express ideas, papers are material objects, not ideals. The descriptions for each letter grade reflect an ideal paper. Real papers often contain some elements of papers from several grade levels. For instance, a B paper may “use vigorous language [that] pleases readers” (a quality of an A paper), while also offering “no stimulating insight into the work it discusses” (a mark of a C paper).
Criteria for Evaluating Literature Papers
- A paper: An excellent paper that gives a strong sense of the writer’s voice and holds the readers’ interest while helping them gain new insights into the text. The writer seems always to keep in mind a lively, literate audience (like a group of Eng 6 students) with knowledge of the text. The paper conveys a strong sense of the writer’s original purpose, moving deftly from close observation about the text (“what” questions), to astute analysis of the ways the author achieves such effects (“how” questions), to persuasive interpretation of why such matters make a difference in readers’ understanding of the text (“why” questions). The paper demonstrates intellectual virtues of a Christian reader (e.g. an understanding of the implications of multiple points of view, an adept awareness of scriptural allusion, a mature capacity for imaginative sympathy). Readers can easily understand how the writer reaches his or her conclusions about the text. The paper is well organized with elegant transitions. The writer supports generalizations effectively, using vivid examples, quoting and explaining the text effectively, paraphrasing when useful and avoiding summary. All quotations are attached to the writer’s prose either by being incorporated smoothly into the flow of a sentence or by being introduced gracefully. The writer analyzes each quotation, telling readers explicitly how the passage serves as evidence for a point the writer is making. The writer keeps the scope of the paper narrow enough to handle. The essay’s vigorous language pleases readers. The writer has taken some risks, gotten away from formulas in writing and gone well beyond standard interpretations of the text and in-class discussions. The paper fully addresses all of the requirements of the assignment and all previous feedback on writing.
- B paper: A good paper that more than meets the assignment. It shows a strong sense of writing to an interested audience with a desire for a deeper appreciation of the chosen text. The paper has a sense of purpose, though the writer may not always perceptively connect what the writer observes to why that observation matters. The paper suggests that the writer is acquiring the intellectual virtues of a Christian reader. The scope of the paper is narrow enough to be treated adequately. The reader may not always be able to follow the writer step-by-step through the analysis of the text. The writer supports generalizations and uses specific examples from the text, avoiding summary. All quotations are attached to the writer’s prose grammatically, with enough context to indicate how the passage serves as evidence for a point the writer is making. Language is sometimes used colorfully or imaginatively. The writer’s voice or personality comes through. It has very few errors. The paper shows attention to all of the parameters of the assignment and effectively employs some previous feedback on writing.
- C paper: A satisfactory paper that makes a routine response to the assignment. It shows some sense of literate audience and has a purpose. It makes a commitment to the reader and attempts to meet that commitment, but offers no stimulating insight into the work it discusses. This paper may simply restate the class discussion of the text or contain lengthy summary. It is adequately organized so that the reader can follow it. The writer has supported generalizations with specific illustrations from the text or life, although he or she may not always use the text precisely or analyze it adequately. All quotations are attached to the writer’s prose grammatically but sometimes with rudimentary phrases that just consist of “the author says” or “the character says.” The writer sometimes fails to explain what he or she sees in a quotation, seeming to expect that readers will automatically see whatever the writer sees. There are few distracting errors in usage, punctuation or spelling. The writer has generally used language correctly. The paper addresses most of the requirements of the assignment and attempts to incorporate previous written or oral feedback on writing.
- D paper: A below standard paper. It shows a poor sense of audience and purpose, with no attempt to participate in a conversation with literate readers hoping to develop Christian intellectual virtues. The writer’s commitment to the reader is vague or buried in observations about what the text does. The content is largely unsupported generalizations about the text or summary, or may be based on a misreading of the text. Points are inadequately developed and sometimes erroneous, and there are few specifics or concrete examples from the text or from the writer’s own world. Quotations do not fit together grammatically with the writer’s prose; some quotations are included without any attempt to connect them to the writer’s prose. The paper is poorly organized and difficult to follow. Errors in usage and punctuation occur frequently enough to distract the reader. The writer uses language inaccurately. The paper does not meet the requirements stipulated in the assignment and gives no attention to previous written or verbal feedback on writing.
- F paper: A disaster. It shows no sense of purpose or audience. It does not make a commitment to the reader early in the paper. The writer shows little or no understanding of the assigned literature. It is poorly organized with ideas jumbled together so that it is difficult to follow. The points it makes are primarily generalizations and summaries, not shedding any new light on the text and not adequately supported with specific examples, details or explanations. The paper fails to include any quotations as evidence, or consists largely of quotations that go unanalyzed. It is marred by serious errors in punctuation and usage. The writer uses language inaccurately. The paper shows no awareness of the requirements for the assignment and does not acknowledge previous feedback. The writer has committed plagiarism