The following is based on the Princeton Writing Program Writing Lexicon, by Kerry Walk and Judith A. Swan. It is available here.
- Thesis: The argument or purpose of a paper. In academic writing, the thesis is an arguable claim – that is, a claim with which an informed reader might reasonably disagree, but that the author can support with persuasive evidence and analysis. In writing in the humanities, the author’s thesis is typically stated in the introductory paragraphs. In science writing, the thesis in normally presented in two separate parts, an introductory part that poses a problem and a discussion that resolves it – both of these parts will be stated in the paper’s abstract, though they will typically be separated by a summary of the paper’s evidence.
- Motive: The background or context that explains why a paper’s thesis is worth exploring. In persuasive writing, a motive generally shows that the paper’s thesis can help to answer an open question or solve an unresolved problem. In academic writing in both the sciences and the humanities, motives also explain how the paper’s thesis builds upon and contributes to earlier research in the field.
- Structure:The organization of a paper’s argument or investigation. Structure can refer both to a paper’s overall organization or line of argument from beginning to end and to the organization within individual paragraphs and connections between paragraphs. In writing in the humanities and mathematical and scientific review papers, a structure should allow for an argument that develops progressively. In empirical science writing, the overarching structure of a paper is typically formalized into sections including Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion or Conclusion. This allows readers to quickly assess the methods and results of a study and, perhaps more importantly, forces the writer to distinguish what she knows from what she did from what she saw from what she thought – in other words, to separate the things that in day-to-day thinking we frequently conflate, leading us rapidly, but perhaps erroneously, to infer causation from correlation and to generalize from our specific experience
- Evidence:The information that a paper presents to support its thesis. All persuasive writing relies on evidence to persuade readers. In the humanities, evidence is usually taken from a variety of primary sources. In the sciences, evidence is normally the results of observation or experiments and is often numerically quantifiable. Numerical evidence is often summarized in diagrams, graphs, or tables.
- Analysis:The interpretation of evidence in order to support a paper’s thesis or argument. All persuasive writing also relies on analysis to explain its evidence – evidence is normally not self-explanatory. In the humanities, analysis normally involves the interpretation of sources or their placement into a relevant context. In the sciences, analysis often has two stages: in the Results section of a paper, numerical evidence is analyzed using statistical models (usually with the aid of graphs or tables); in the Discussion or Conclusion, these results are interpreted in order to explain their meaning and significance.
- Key Words:A paper’s most important terms and concepts. Key words normally appear in a paper’s title and abstract and aid researchers in finding relevant work. Key words whose definitions are not well known (or that are being used in a way that differs from their standard definitions) should be defined.
- Audience: The readership an author intends to reach with his or her writing. All persuasive writing has an audience in mind. This could be as broad as “anyone capable of reading this essay” or “all Canadian voters” and as narrow as a handful of specific recipients. Academic writing typically is typically (but not always) intended for an audience of specialists in a specific field.
- Primary Sources: The materials that form the evidence for most humanities writing. In the humanities (science writing does not use the term in this sense), primary sources are often written texts of some sort, but might also be material artifacts, works of art, music, or interviews.
- Secondary Sources or Literature: The relevant scholarly writing that informs a paper. Academics in the humanities often use the term “secondary sources” or “secondary literature” to distinguish scholarly work about a subject from the primary sources that are the basic evidence for research in that topic. Scientists typically refer to the body of scientific writing on a topic as “the literature.” They sometimes use the term “primary literature” to refer to papers that have been peer reviewed and secondary literature to refer to documents that have not. In all academic disciplines, scholars generally prefer peer-reviewed materials to those that have not been through peer review.
- Citations: Formal, bibliographical information about a paper’s sources. In academic writing, sources are always cited, both to give credit to their authors and as a guide for other scholars. There is a wide variety of citation styles in use in academic writing. Some of the most common include those developed by the Modern Language Association (MLA), the American Psychological Association (APA), the University of Chicago Press (Chicago), and the Council of Science Editors (CSE). Citation styles typically include standards for in-text citations (that identify the source of a specific summary, quotation, or paraphrase) and full references that appear at the end of papers (and give the complete bibliographical information for the sources cited in the paper).
- Mechanics: Grammar, spelling, punctuation, and syntax – the sentence-level organization of writing. All writing requires a clear grasp of mechanics in order for effective communication. Academic writers (especially in the sciences) generally value clarity, precision of vocabulary, and concision of expression.
Paper Grading Standards
- A paper in the A range (there is no A+) demonstrates a high degree of mastery over the fundamentals of persuasive writing: it advances an interesting, arguable thesis; establishes a clear motive to suggest why the thesis is original or worthwhile; employs a logical and progressive structure; analyzes evidence insightfully and in depth; draws from well-chosen sources; and is written in a clear, sophisticated style.
- A B-range paper resembles an A-range paper in some ways, but may exhibit a vague, uninteresting, or inconsistently argued thesis; establish a functional but unsubstantial motive; employ a generally logical but somewhat disorganized or undeveloped structure; include well-chosen but sometimes unanalyzed and undigested evidence; use sources in a correct but limited fashion; or be written in an unsophisticated or grammatically problematic style.
- A C-range paper resembles a B-range paper in some ways, but may also feature a confusing, simple, or descriptive thesis; provide a simplistic motive or none at all; lack a coherent structure; fail to present enough evidence, or present evidence that is insufficiently analyzed; drop in sources without properly contextualizing or citing them; and be written in a generally unclear, simplistic, or technically flawed style.
- A D paper (there is no D+ or D-) resembles a C-range paper but may include a purely descriptive or obvious thesis; lack a motive; display an unfocused, confusing, or rambling structure; and draw on little analyzed evidence and sources. A D paper has trouble engaging with the assignment and may not show awareness of the conventions of academic discourse and style. It does, however, show signs of attempting to engage with the issues, topics, and sources of the assignment.
- An F paper is similar to a D paper but is significantly shorter than the assigned length and addresses the assignment superficially.
Jeff’s Marking Shorthand
When I mark, I often use shorthand to supplement my comments. Below are some common marks I make:
- if something is circled, there is some mechanical problem with the writing (spelling or grammar). Sometimes I circle something and think it is obvious that you will see the error. Sometimes I get more specific.
- CS stands for comma splice
- VT stands for some issue with verb tense. Sometimes it is because the verb tenses do not agree (she went out of the house and shakes his hand) or because you use a passive voice rather than an active one (passive: I would argue; active: I argue).
- cit or source means that there is some issue with citation. You might have made an argument that needs a citation, or done an improper or confusing citation. In my classes, I generally do not care which citation style you use, so long as you pick one style, do it properly, and include all relevant information.
- ? means that I was confused by a sentence or argument
- logic means that there was some issue in the logic of your argument. Look closely at the causality you are arguing.
- trans means that there was some issue in the transition from one paragraph or section to another. Your argument could have flowed better.
- Frag sentence fragment or some sort of incomplete sentence.
- pl Some issue with singular/plural disagreement
- check mark means you made your point well!