Prof Webster

Criteria for Interpretive Essays in This Class

            Criteria  for “The English Paper” cannot be fixed, since every assignment will have its own specific requirements.  But we can be specific about mid-terms and papers for this class.  First, we have three baseline expectations of good writing in general:

Responsive:  A responsive essay does what is asked, and doesn’t do what isn’t asked.  I usually write out assignments quite fully, and the object of doing so is to make sure you know what you are to be doing.  But I’m not always successful.  If for any reason you don’t understand what you should be writing about, PLEASE RAISE THE QUESTION IN CLASS!  If you don’t know what you are supposed to do, then I haven’t been clear, and others probably won’t understand either!

Well-structured:  A well-structured essay or paper will have a clear conceptual center, or thesis—a claim which explains why you are writing and why your reader should be reading.  It will keep its attention focused clearly on that center’s logic, excluding what is irrelevant.  It will provide enough road signs—transitions, connections—that your reader will know where you’re going and why.  A paper with a strong center will follow clearly, avoid  unclear digressions, and its different parts will all be relevant to the claim you’re making. 

Presentable:   A good paper will be grammatically and stylistically clear and well edited.  You will have proofread carefully, run your spellchecker, looked for punctuation difficulties.  And you will have followed the presentation guidelines given in the next three pages of  this packet.  Though I do not set the same high presentation standards for in-class work, I DO expect that inclass writing be literate and physically readable.

            Beyond those general criteria, which I presuppose of all written work, papers for this class will be graded according to the following criteria:

  INTEGRATING CLAIM:   This criterion has to do with the imagination,  scope, and interest of the interpretive argument your  paper makes.  Does the paper deal with an important dimension of the topic?  Does it actually explore the idea it begins with, take it to its limit, see its  complications?  Or does it just “get it over with”?  Does it settle for a small point, or does it reach to explore something somehow more interpretively powerful?  Does it deliver an answer to the  question:  “So What?”  Will it make your audience care? 

  SPECIFICS:  This criterion has to do with how well you’ve noticed what’s going on in your text.  Texts worth writing about will have any number of effects to pay attention to.  Have you located as  many as you can comfortably and fully explore in the time or space you’ve been allotted?  Have you sorted through your observations in order to focus clearly on those which do most to show the consistency and coherence of your overall argument? 

  EXPLORATION/FULLNESS:  This criterion has to do with how fully, and  how convincingly, you explore the logic of your text’s  language.  Do you explore fully enough the specific effects of your text that you convince  me you have thought about all of its lines in terms of  your paper’s  central claim?  And do you explore your  points  thoroughly?  explaining  not just what you see, but also your points’ relevance  to the  paper’s  governing center?  Will I have a sense that  this  paper has  dealt  fully with its proposed subject?  Is  there  anything  you might have talked about that you haven’t? Would including more add to your paper’s authority?  Would it make your case stronger?  More clear?


English 330
Prof Webster


On papers and exams for this class you’ll find, in addition to comments, a set of either three (for in-class exams) or four (for  take-home  exams) numbers, like: 

3 1 2 3

These numbers correspond to each of the criteria described on pages 33-4 above in “Four Criteria for Interpretive Essays in This Class.”  The first three are for Integration of Claim/Power; Specifics; Exploration/Fullness.  The fourth is Presentation.  The first three criteria carry equal weight towards your paper’s total score; Presentation (for  take-home only—I don’t pay explicit attention to Presentation issues on in-class exams) counts half of what the others count. 

The point of these numbers is to give you a quick mini-grade on each of the criteria I use to score papers.  You can get from 0 (not very good at all) up to 5 (as good as it gets) in each category.   The number represents my judgment about how well your paper has done  on that  one category, as measured against both my general sense of how well 300-level students ought to perform, and the performances of other students in the class.  As I assign them, I have in mind the following general sense of what they mean: 

1  Not enough sense of this category to be functional in college level work.  (e.g., a paper without any noticing of language choice, or without any exploration of the semantic logic any such choice entails.)

2  Some sense of what this category is, but needing substantial improvement. (e.g., a paper that notices words, but only points to them without showing how the work is affected by those words.)

3  Functional success with this category, but not yet showing full control.  (Some exploration of a few word choices, for example, but not with much fullness, or without consistency.)

4  Functional success with this category, with only minor problems.  (e.g., a paper with a good sense of what noticing or exploring are, and a good deal of doing so.)

5  Full success with this category.  (e.g., a paper with truly insightful, careful and extensive work with the semantic logic of a series of word choices.)

There is no exact relationship between these numbers and the score you get, but there is a very strong correlation.  Four 5’s, for example, would undoubtedly earn 100 points.


Plagiarism Prevention

1. The best plagiarism prevention program is a well-designed assignment.

See the Peter Elbow piece at:  http://www.ntlf.com/html/lib/bib/writing.htm

  1. When students plagiarize, they often do so because they find themselves unable to complete assignments on their own.  They put the writing off, don’t know how to get help, and finally get desperate.   To avoid those problems, get people writing early, both so they can learn early what they need to know in order to do the work themselves, and so that you can see any problems they are having well before it’s too late to do something about them.  Break big assignments into smaller, manageable tasks.  For example, you may require students to turn in a paragraph-long summary of their paper one week, and a short draft the next week.  You might ask your students to complete the “Developing a Thesis” handout (shown on the next page), which guides them toward writing a thesis statement.  Or the “Focus Checklist” handout found at: http://www.unc.edu/depts/wcweb/faculty_resources/classroom_writing.html
  2. Students often do not understand scholarly conventions for citation.  Take class time to ensure that students understand exactly what your discipline expects of them in terms of the use they make of other people’s work.  Locate a website that offers students in your discipline help with citation conventions, and help students find and use it. For example,

Psychology Writing Center’s handouts:

Citation Style Guides for Internet and Electronic Sources

  1. Help your students learn to distinguish between acceptable paraphrasing and plagiarism.  See the following examples from ASU’s Department of Sociology:


  1.  Urge students to use Writing Center support.  Conversations with writing tutors can help them solve research and writing problems that might otherwise send them to internet paper mills.  See especially the Odegaard Writing & Research Center, at:


  1. Try not to accuse students, or talk about plagiarism as if it is rampant.  Most of your students would never plagiarize, and won’t respond well to an atmosphere of distrust.


  1. If you do find yourself dealing with a plagiarized paper, talk with your supervising instructor or administrator about the appropriate steps to take.  See also the Faculty Resource on Grading at:   http://depts.washington.edu/grading/issue1/conduct.htm#address