I have four general criteria for evaluating student writing, each of which is worth 25%
of a paper’s grade:
Completeness. Does the author answer all the questions posed by the topic? Are the questions addressed adequately?
Understanding. Does the author demonstrate good understanding of the text(s) and the assignment? Does the author write anything at odds with what a text actually says?
Clarity. Does the author organize the paper well, or does the paper wander illogically? How is the author’s grammar, word choice, syntax, spelling, punctuation, and transitions between paragraphs and sentences? Would a naïve reader be able to understand the author’s points?
Insight. Is there evidence that the author is thinking deeply about this assignment, or does it appear that the author is treating the assignment in a superficial manner? Does the author support their claims with textual citation, valid argumentation, and illustrative examples and/or analogies?
I also evaluate student writing in terms of more specific criteria, and when I hand back a graded draft there are detailed comments in the margins relating to content, as well as an evaluation sheet stapled to the back of the draft. This evaluation points to the various problem areas in your writing, and also explains the shorthand notations that I’ve made in the margins of your paper to indicate these common problems. What follows are slightly more detailed explanations of these shorthand notations, in alphabetical order.
This sentence has a verb and pronoun that are not in agreement. A singular antecedent (one that would take a singular verb) is referred to by a singular pronoun (e.g., “A philosopher cares for his soul.”) A plural antecedent (one that would take a plural verb) is referred to by a plural pronoun (e.g., “Philosophers care for their souls.”). Bring your pronoun and verb back into alignment!
You’re making a claim here, but you haven’t given me enough reason(s) to believe your claim is true. You need to make a strong, sound philosophical argument, with (a) true premise(s) and a conclusion that follows!
Often this is a cumbersome sentence that’s a real bear to read. Usually this can be fixed by taking long sentences and breaking them into two (or in especially severe cases, three) complete sentences. Sometimes this signifies an awkwardly-expressed phrase, due to poor syntax and/or word choice.
This direct quotation is four lines or longer. It’s standard practice to “block” quotations of this length by indenting the entire quote. Blocked quotes do not use quotation marks.
Are you sure you’re following the standard rules for capitalization here?
Choppiness usually refers to disorganization within a paragraph. The topics of the sentences jump from one unrelated point to the next, disorienting your readers. The point is to guide your readers, not confuse them. Each sentence should reflect an aspect of the topic of the paragraph, and logically flow from one sentence to the next. What can you do to make this paragraph flow better, logically-speaking?
The idea is to translate the ideas in your head onto the page so anyone who reads it can understand them; your reader can’t read your mind. Untangle your thoughts and make your points clearly and completely on the page, leaving nothing to chance. Your reader should never have to guess at what you mean.
What you have here is two separate sentences linked only by a comma; this is called a comma splice. Be careful of how you use commas!
does this follow?
You’re making an attempt at an argument here, but I don’t see how this follows from what you’ve just said. Can you draw a clearer connection between this statement and (a) preceding statement(s) that seek(s) to justify it?
You’re expressing an opinion or making a point here, but it’s not at all clear why anyone should believe it. Can you make a sound argument or present credible evidence that will convince your readers of the truth of your claim?
This is only part of a sentence–a sentence fragment. A sentence must contain at least one full independent clause. A full independent clause has both a subject and a verb. A sentence fragment is missing one or the other. A fragment is repaired by either pulling it into a nearby sentence or by turning it into a sentence. How would you fix the following fragment? “Socrates walked through the marketplace. Listening hard for snatches of philosophical conversation.” Again, use commas properly!
I’ve just read this, and I simply can’t make any sense of it. Read it to yourself–do you understand it? Why not translate this into prose understandable to the average reader of English?
When I put a capital letter “I” above a word that I’ve underlined, it means you should italicize it.
A more severe case of the misplaced paragraph; several paragraphs are logically jumbled, testifying to an overall lack of organization in your paper. If you have an outline, follow it! If you don’t have an outline, write one! Then reorganize your paragraphs using this outline as a guide.
Here the issue is one of organization within a paragraph. Do your thoughts and ideas flow one to the other in a smooth, logical fashion? Or do they jump around in a random and confusing way? Get your ideas in order here!
These usually refer to a paragraph that doesn’t seem to belong where you’ve placed it; its placement seems at odds with the overall organization of your paper. Isn’t there another spot in your paper where this paragraph logically belongs?
qt rel to pt?
You’re quoting a text here, but it’s not clear how it’s relevant to the point you’re making. Are you quoting the text just for the sake of quoting it, or does the quote actually serve to illustrate your point or support your argument? If the quote isn’t relevant, cut it; if it is relevant, explain to your reader how it is relevant.
You’re either needlessly repeating the same point using different words, or engaging in redundant expression (e.g., “At the start Socrates first in the beginning walked to the marketplace”). Stop it! Say it once, say it well, and say it in the right place.
You’ve just said something about a text that seems unsupportable by the text itself. Either insert a direct quotation that supports your claim, or delete the claim altogether.
rel? rel to pt? rel to topic?
You’re digressing. How is what you’re saying here relevant to the point being made, or even relevant to the topic of the paper? If it’s not relevant, cut it. If it is relevant, explain its relevance to your reader.
Here you have two sentences (or independent clauses) that are run together without punctuation (e.g., “Socrates walked through the marketplace he listened hard for snatches of philosophical conversation”). This is a run-on sentence (also called a fused sentence). You fix it by separating the two complete sentences or clauses with the proper punctuation (e.g., “Socrates walked through the marketplace. He listened hard for snatches of philosophical conversation”).
This word is spelled wrong. Always check your spelling, both with spell-check and visually.
The claim you’re making here would be greatly strengthened if you supported it with a relevant quotation from (or a paraphrase of) the text.
Sentences that make the reader go “huh?” usually contain poor syntax, the ungrammatical arrangement of words, phrases, and clauses (e.g., “Socrates to the marketplace walked” instead of “Socrates walked to the marketplace”). Grammatical units need to be in their proper order.
Here you have a problem with tense, which refers to the form of the verb that indicates time. In general, tense should remain in the more active present tense throughout your paper. For example, it’s awkward to write “Meno walks up to Socrates in the marketplace and tried to start a conversation” because the tense shifts from present to past. You should always avoid a shift in tense like this. It’s much better to write “Meno walks up to Socrates in the marketplace and tries to start a conversation”—the tense stays in the present tense. Unless you refer to something in the past, it’s generally a safe bet to stick to the present tense.
You’re lacking a good transition that signals a shift in the development of an idea or argument between sentences or paragraphs. Smooth this shift out so your reader can more easily follow the logical development of your idea/argument.
Here you’ve chosen a word that doesn’t mean what you think it means. Look it up in a dictionary so you know what the word means for future reference, then pick another word that confers what you really mean to say . This notation followed by a question mark (wc?) means that the word indicated is not the best word you could’ve chosen and suggests you should consider another word that better conveys your meaning–but it will do if you can’t come up with something better.
Similar to awkward phrasing (awk), but the problem here is that you’re using more words than necessary to get your point across. Often (but not always) a problem with students who have big vocabularies. The point is to clarify, not confuse. Write short, powerful sentences that get your point across cleanly. Be concise and efficient in the expression of your ideas.
why? what? when? where? who? which? how? how so? such as? specifics? explain. define. elaborate. describe. follow through! more depth and detail!
You could (and should!) say much more here–be detailed! Answer the questions fully, fill in the blanks, be specific!
This notation is usually placed above a pronoun (e.g., he, she, it) with an ambiguous relationship to its antecedent (a noun, noun phrase, or previously-mentioned pronoun that the pronoun replaces). A pronoun should always refer to a clear and definite antecedent. For example, in this sentence (“Socrates tells Euthyphro that he doesn’t know what piety is.”), who does the pronoun “he” refer to, Socrates or Euthyphro? Avoid writing sentences like this.
You’ve just contradicted a claim that you’ve made in another part of the paper. You need to decide which of these contradictory claims is false and then delete it, or take other steps to reconcile this apparent contradiction.
Oops! You’ve dropped a word here! Better find it!
If you still have questions after reading this, my annotations on your draft and the evaluation sheet, just email me and we can set up an appointment. We’ll talk about the philosophical content of your paper, and decide if you would benefit by additional assistance with your writing.