Sample Grading Criteria (We Will Design Our Own)


  • Has a purpose, a "so what" (a theme, a thesis)
  • The essay is driven by reflection even if overt reflection is not included
  • Is full of specifics
  • Contains vivid description, but this description is balanced with purpose/point; description is put to service of the purpose/theme of the essay
  • Has characters who are brought “alive” (even if this character is only the writer)
  • Has an engaging and coherent perspective
  • Shows rather than tells
  • Can be direct
  • May be under-written in powerful ways
  • Tone matches topic (remember hot/cold principle)
  • May use exaggeration, but the reader knows and so doesn't feel lied to (the reader and writer have a contract that a non-fiction essay is non-fiction. Breaking this contract requires the writer to signal the reader).

Effect on reader/audience:

  • Contains a perspective that clicks with the reader (see page 98 of Lamott)
  • May use immediacy to draw reader in
  • Lets us see the world through the writer's eyes
  • May thwart reader expectations


  • Consciously organized
  • Flows through use of narrative and transitions (transitions can include transitional words or repetitions)
  • There is a sense of closure at end (note this does not mean that you must sum up your essay neatly)
  • May strategically emphasizes the last word of a paragraph or passage in order to hit theme home
  • May use a circle as a structuring device
  • Is focused – eliminating detail and statements that don’t contribute to the scenes or theme
  • Has an introduction that draws the reader into the memoir (no bland, general statements)
  • Avoids not useful repetition


  • Strong verbs, concrete nouns, sentence variety and emphasis, parallel sentence structure

“A” essays, while not perfect, fulfill the grading criteria exceptionally well.
These essays may take risks that are successful.
“B” essays meet the grading criteria successfully for the most part. These essays may take risks that are only somewhat successful.
“C” essays satisfy the grading criteria. These essays communicate a theme, bring the topic alive for the most part, are organized coherently, and contain competent prose. This essay may not take any risks.
“D” essays do not satisfy the grading criteria. They may have a barely perceptible theme or many multiple underdeveloped themes. They use but few of the writing strategies that can bring a topic alive; in particular they tell rather than show, are not driven by reflection, and rely on vague, abstract expression. Sentences may be awkward or confusing.
“F” essays do not exist or exist as notebook freewrites.

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