ESSAY WRITING TIPS/RUBRIC
This is what I look for when grading your analytical essays. I'd like to thank Prof. Ted South at Western New England University, from whom I shamelessly stole most of these guidelines. All essays need to be in Times New Roman, 12-pt font and double-spaced.
- Does the essay have a clear thesis? You should be able to summarize the main point of your essay in one or two sentences; the whole purpose of the essay is to convince the reader of that main point. Be clear about what you are trying to prove, and let your reader know.
- Is it a strong thesis? I am looking for interesting, original explanations of why things happen in history; avoid weak topics that focus on insignificant points or ones that are so obvious that they do not require detailed proof.
- Is the thesis supported by a sufficient number of logical arguments and sub-arguments? In order to convince the reader that your thesis is correct you will need to present several supporting arguments; some of those arguments may in turn require support of their own.
- Does each argument contribute directly to your thesis? An essay this brief needs to remain sharply focused on your thesis; don’t wander off into other topics.
- Is each argument or sub-argument supported by convincing evidence? Remember that primary evidence is generally more convincing than secondary, and that the most convincing way to use primary evidence is to quote it directly. Be sure to explain all primary evidence as well.
- Is all evidence correctly quoted and cited? If you paraphrase from any source, you must give the original author credit. If you copy from any source, you must use quotation marks and give a brief citation, either in parentheses after the quote [(Esler, Western World, p. 9); (Tacitus in Discovering…, p. 55)] or in a footnote. If you quote from a source that is not among the course readings, you must also give a complete citation in a bibliography. Note: failure to correctly cite paraphrases or quotes is plagiarism, and I will hammer you for it!
- Is the essay clearly organized and easy to follow? Does support for your thesis proceed logically from point to point, and is each point presented in a separate paragraph? Often the only way to keep a complex structure of arguments and sub-arguments organized is to outline it first.
- Is the meaning of each sentence clear and easy to follow? When in doubt, keep it simple!
- Is the essay free from embarrassing errors in spelling and punctuation? Mistakes make you look dumb, which makes the job of convincing your reader much more difficult. In particular, watch for mistakes caused by homonyms (easily confused words) and apostrophes. Proofread!
- Are all sentences grammatically correct? In particular, watch for sentence fragments, comma splices, fused sentences, and subject-verb disagreement.
Some Basic Writing Tips:
-Be as specific as possible in your introduction. Use your introduction to introduce us to your arguments and thesis. Do NOT use it to write broad, empty, and sweeping statements that are vague but not germane to the topic. For instance, if your assignment is to consider how Christianity changed the Roman empire, do not begin it with something like this, “Throughout the broad sweep of human history, religion has been an important factor of society.” While this may be true, it is general, vague, and tells us nothing. Instead, consider a beginning more like this, “Christianity’s growth in popularity in the Roman empire shifted the basic social relationship from one of citizen and emperor to one of worshipper and deity.” This is far better. It is to the point, it makes an argument, and it represents a clear indication of what you’ll be arguing.
-Furthermore, your introduction needs to introduce not just the topic, but your arguments and thesis as well. Tell the reader right up front what you intend to prove, and why. Do not leave your core points until the conclusion. Write this more like a prosecutor's opening statement, not a mystery novel.
-Your conclusion is NOT simply a rehashing of your introduction. While the conclusion does often restate the main points, it is far better to use it to actually draw conclusions. Consider what you have argued and draw some insight from it looking forward. Do not introduce whole new arguments, but make some new points. It is a tough balance, but it makes your paper much stronger and more compelling.