for Great Books Seminar
IDEAS AND CONTENT | ORGANIZATION | VOICE | WORD CHOICE
SENTENCE STRUCTURE | WRITING CONVENTIONS
A. IDEAS AND CONTENT
Excellent: This paper is clear in purpose and conveys ideas in an interesting, original manner that holds the readers attention. Often, the writing develops as a process of discovery for both reader and writer. Clear, relevant examples, anecdotes or details develop and enrich the central idea or ideas.
-The writer seems to be writing what he or she knows, often from experience.
-The writer shows insighta good sense of the world, people, situations.
-The writing is often enlivened by spontaneity or a fresh, individual perspective.
-The writer selects supportive, relevant details that keep the main idea(s) in focus.
-Primary and secondary ideas are developed in proportion to their significance; the writing has a sense of balance.
-The writer seems in control of the topic and its development throughout.
OK: The writers purpose is reasonably clear; however, the overall result may not be especially captivating. Support is less than adequate to fully develop the main idea(s).
-The reader may not be convinced of the writers knowledge of the topic.
-The writer seems to have considered ideas, but not thought things through all the way.
-Ideas, though reasonably clear and comprehensible, may tend toward the mundane; the reader is not sorry to see the paper end.
-Supporting details tend to be skimpy, general, predictable, or repetitive. Some details seem included by chance, not selected through careful discrimination.
-Writing sometimes lacks balance: e.g., too much attention to minor details, insufficient development of main ideas, informational gaps.
-The writers control of the topic seems inconsistent or uncertain.
OOPS: This paper lacks a central idea or purposeor the central idea can be inferred by the reader only because he or she knows the topic (question asked).
-Information is very limited (e.g., restatement of the prompt, heavy reliance on repetition) or simply unclear altogether.
-Insight is limited or lacking (e.g., details that do not ring true; dependence on platitudes or stereotypes).
-Paper lacks balance; development of ideas is minimal, or there may be a list of random thoughts from which no central theme emerges.
-Writing tends to read like a rote responsemerely an effort to get something down on paper.
-The writer does not seem in control of the topic; shorter papers tend to go nowhere, longer papers to wander aimlessly.
Excellent: The writer organizes material in a way that enhances the readers understanding, or that helps to develop a central idea or theme. The order may be conventional or not, but the sequence is effective and moves the reader through the paper.
-Details seem to fit where theyre placed, and the reader is not left with the sense that "something is missing."
-The writer provides a clear sense of beginning and ending, with an inviting introduction and a satisfying conclusion ("satisfying" in the sense that the reader feels the paper has ended at the right spot).
-Transitions work well; the writing shows unity and cohesion, both within paragraphs and as a whole.
-Organization flows so smoothly that the reader doesnt have to think about it.
OK: The writer attempts to organize ideas and details cohesively, but the resulting pattern may be somewhat unclear, ineffective, or awkward. Although the reader can generally follow whats being said, the organizational structure may seem at times to be forced, obvious, incomplete, or ineffective.
-The writer seems to have a sense of beginning and ending, but the introduction and/or conclusion tend to be less effective than desired.
-The order may not be a graceful fit with the topic (e.g., a forced conventional pattern, or lack of structure).
-The writer may miss some opportunities for transitions, requiring the reader to make assumptions or inferences.
-Placement or relevance of some details may be questionable (e.g., interruptive information; writer gets to the point in a roundabout fashion).
-While some portions of the paper may seem unified (e.g., organization within a given paragraph may be acceptable), cohesion of the whole may be weak.
OOPS: Organization is haphazard and disjointed. The writing shows little or no sense of progression or direction. Examples, details, or events seem unrelated to any central ideas, or may be strung together helter-skelter with no apparent pattern.
-There is no clear sense of a beginning or ending.
-Transitions are very weak or absent altogether.
-Arrangement of details is confusing or illogical.
-There are noticeable information "gaps"; the reader is left dangling, or cannot really see how the writer got from one point to another.
-The paper lacks unity and solidarity.
Excellent: The paper bears the unmistakable stamp of the individual writer. The writer speaks directly to the reader, and seems sincere, candid and committed to the topic. The overall effect is individualistic, expressive, and engaging; this paper stands out from the others.
-The reader feels an interaction with the writer, and through the writing, gains a sense of what the writer is like.
-The paper is honest. There is a real effort to communicate, even when it means taking a risk (e.g., an unexpected approach or revealing of self).
-The writing is natural and compelling.
-Tone is appropriate and consistently controlled.
-The writers own enthusiasm or interest comes through and brings the topic to life.
OK: The writer makes an honest effort to deal with the topic, but without a strong sense of personal commitment or involvement. The result is often pleasant or acceptable, yet not striking or compelling in a way that draws the reader in.
-The reader only has an occasional or limited sense of interaction with the writer.
-Writer may seem self-conscious or unwilling to take a riskmay seem to be writing what h/she thinks the reader wants.
-Paper lacks individuality, or the ring of conviction.
-The writing communicates, but only in a routine, predictable fashion that tends to make it blend in with the efforts of others.
-Voice may be inconsistent; it may emerge strongly on occasion, only to shift or even disappear altogether.
OOPS: The writer may not have understood the assignment, or may simply have felt indifferent toward the topic. As a result, no clear voice emerges. The result is flat, lifeless, very mechanical and stilted, or possibly inappropriate.
-The reader has no sense that this writer was "writing to be read," and experiences virtually no writer-reader interaction.
-The writing has virtually no individual personality or character; there is no identifiable voice behind the words.
-There is little or no evidence of the writers involvement in the topic.
D. WORD CHOICE
Excellent: The writer consistently selects words that convey the intended message in an interesting, precise, and natural way. The result is full and rich, yet not overwhelming; every word carries its own weight.
-Words are specific, accurate, and suited to the subject. Imagery is strong.
-Lively, powerful verbs give the writing energy, visual appeal, and clarity.
-Vocabulary may be striking, colorful, or unusualbut the language isnt overdone.
-Expression is fresh and appealing, fun to read. The writer uses cliches or slang sparingly, and only for effect.
-The writer may experiment with uncommon words, or use common words in a delightful way.
-Figurative language, if used, is effective.
OK: The writers word choice is adequate to convey meaning, but the language tends toward the ordinary. The writer doesnt consistently reach for the "best" way to say something, but instead often settles for the first word or phrase that comes to mind. The result is a sort of "generic paper" that sounds familiar, routine, or commonplace.
-Language communicates quite well, but without a sense of satisfying fullness or power; the reader has the feeling it could have been written better.
-Imagery may be weakened by overuse of abstract, general language.
-Though the reader can interpret the meaning quite readily, some words lack precision or vigor.
-Attempts at the unusual, colorful or difficult are not always successful. The language may seem overdone or calculated to impress rather than natural.
-Though an occasional phrase may catch the readers eye, cliches, redundancies and hackneyed phrases pop up with disappointing frequency; there are few surprises or enticing twists.
OOPS: The writer is struggling with a limited vocabulary, often groping for words and phrases to convey meaning. Meaning may be difficult to determine (e.g., the writer says one thing but seems to mean another), or else the language is so vague and abstract that only the broadest, most general sorts of messages are conveyed.
-Writing is often characterized by monotonous repetition, overwhelming reliance on worn, threadbare expressions, or heavy reliance on the prompt (topic) itself for key words and phrases.
-Imagery is very weak or absent; the reader lacks sufficient concrete details to construct any mental picture.
-Words tend to be consistently dull, colorless and trite.
-In some instances, word choice may seem careless, imprecise, or just plain wrong.
E. SENTENCE STRUCTURE
Excellent: The paper is fluid, and reads easily throughout. It has an easy-on-the-ear flow and rhythm when read aloud. Sentences have a strong and rhetorically effective structure that makes reading enjoyable.
-Sentence structure clearly conveys meaning, with no ambiguity.
-Writing sounds natural and fluent, with effective phrasing.
-Sentences are appropriately concise.
-Varied sentence structure and length add interest.
-Fragments, if used, are stylistically appropriate. They seem right.
OK: Sentences are understandable, but tend to be mechanical rather than fluid. While sentences are usually correct, the paper is not characterized by a natural fluency and grace. Occasional flaws or awkward constructions may necessitate re-reading.
-Sentence structure sometimes clearly conveys meaningand sometimes not. Structural problems may sometimes create ambiguity.
-Some sentences lack energy, character or effectiveness (e.g., they may be hampered by awkward structure, unnecessary complexity, roundabout expression, wordiness, dangling modifiers, ineffective use of passive voice, or repetitious beginnings "I did this," "I did that").
-Sentence variety (length or structure) tends to be more the exception than the rule.
-Fragments, if used, may sometimes be ineffective or confusing.
OOPS: The writing is generally awkward and therefore hard to read aloud. It does not sound natural. Sentences tend to be choppy, in complete, or so rambling and irregular that it may be difficult to tell where one should end and the next begin.
-Because sentence structure frequently does not function to convey meaning, reader may pause several times to question what is meant.
-Sentences lack both fluency and correctness. The writer may not write in conventional sentences at all. Or, sentences may seem stiffly constructed, disjointed, endlessly meandering (e.g., many run-ons), or nonsensical.
-Short, choppy sentences relentlessly monotonous rhythms or patterns (e.g., subject-verb or subject-verb-object over and over) that produce a jarring or sing-song effect.
-Fragments are confusing or ineffective. Writer seems to have little grasp of how words fit together, or of where one idea logically stops and the next begins.
F. WRITING CONVENTIONS
Excellent: The writers skillful use of standard writing conventions (grammar, capitalization, punctuation, usage, spelling, paragraphing) enhances readability. There are no glaring errors. In fact, while the paper may not be flawless, errors tend to be so minor that the reader can easily overlook them unless searching for them specifically. (Deliberate, controlled deviations from conventionin dialogue, for instanceare acceptable, provided they enhance the overall effect.
-Grammar (e.g., noun-verb agreement; noun-pronoun agreement; verb tense; forms of nouns, verbs, pronouns and modifiers) is essentially correct.
-Punctuation is smooth and enhances meaning. Informalities, such as dashes or contractions, are allowed.
-Spelling is generally correct, even on more difficult words.
-Usage is generally correct, or acceptable given the purpose of the writing. The writer avoids using double negatives (e.g., couldnt hardly) and nonstandard usage (e.g., could of been, more better, she had ought to do it, irregardless, leave me figure this out). Informalities (e.g., you will find rather than the more formal one will find) are acceptable.
-Paragraphing (i.e., indenting) works in harmony with the inherent organization of the paper.
OK: Errors in writing conventions are noticeable and begin to impair readability. Reader can follow what is being said overall, but may need to pause or re-read on occasion.
-Occasional problems in grammar disrupt the flow of the writing. For example, agreement may be inconsistent; or there may be shifts in tense, improper verb forms (e.g., lay down here), improper pronoun forms (theirselves, me and Jim will go), use of adjectives for adverbs (he did good), and so on.
-Punctuation, capitalization and spelling errors may be sufficiently frequent or serious to momentarily distract the reader.
-Some usage problems (e.g., double negatives, use of nonstandard expressions such as irregardless) may be evident.
-Paragraphing is attempted, but paragraphs may not always begin at the right places. As a result, paragraph structure (indenting) does not always complement the papers inherent organization.
OOPS: Numerous errors in usage and grammar, spelling, capitalization and/or punctuation consistently distract the reader, taking attention away from the writers message and severely impairing readability.
-The student shows very limited understanding of or ability to apply conventions.
-Errors in grammar and usage are frequent and tend to be very noticeable.
-Basic punctuation may be omitted, haphazard, or just plain wrong.
-Capitalization is often incorrect or highly inconsistent.
-Spelling errors tend to be frequent, even on common words.
-Paragraphing is illogical or arbitrary (e.g., paragraphs almost never seem to begin in the right places).