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Grading Criteria for Proposal Writing Courses

(355:302 Scientific and Technical Writing and 355:303 Writing for Business and Professions)

The Grading Criteria for Proposal Writing Courses are intended to promote fair and uniform standards for evaluating papers and for determining final grades. These standards are important not only so that students in one section of the course can expect to be evaluated by the same criteria as students in another section, but so that instructors can know that they are evaluating students by the same criteria used by their colleagues.

General Principles of Commenting and Grading

Instructors’ remarks should be directed toward revision and should focus on the writer's awareness of the social context of writing (i.e. purpose and audience), engagement with facts or research, and overall logic or organization. The writer's ability to polish the document for proofreading and appearance should also be reflected in the grade but should not receive as much stress as content and should not be the primary focus of instructional remarks (except, perhaps, in the case of the resume and cover letter, where strict editing and formatting standards should be maintained). Since comments on the final paper will come too late to influence student performance, instructors should give as much feedback as possible on the initial white paper, the midterm paper, and the presentation. These comments should always be focused more toward revision than evaluation. Instructors often hold individual conferences early in the term or as they return the midterm paper so that they can give concrete advice on the project in dialogue with the student, rather than writing out long comments that might urge an inappropriate direction.  One of the unique aspects of Business and Technical Writing courses is the considerable amount of real-world interaction and research (i.e. "fieldwork") that is expected of students (interviews, meetings, telephone calls, polls, surveys). This will be taken into account during the grading process as well.

Determining Grades for the Resume and Cover Letter

Since students are always in the process of revising the resume, instructors should direct their comments toward revision. Initial emphasis, especially in comments, should be placed on issues of audience. Problems of error and imperfect proofreading should be emphasized in the grade.  However, comments should be directed toward identifying specific patterns of error.

Students must attach the job advertisement, since without it peers and instructors cannot judge audience expectations. The resume should be ordered in a way that best responds to the potential employer's needs, and the cover letter should offer significant details distinguishing the candidate and highlighting aspects of the resume in a way that clearly responds to those needs. Instructors should try to require a high level of detail in the cover letter, since most students will write letters that are too short or that lack detail.  Each document should be one full page in length.

The resume and cover letter assignment ought to have absolutely no errors of syntax, grammar, consistency, or tense. Errors in consistency (in spacing, parallel form, layout, capitalization, etc.) are especially prevalent. General sloppiness or failure to adhere to generally accepted principles (such as using active verbs) should also be considered.

Determining Grades for the Midterm Paper

F range
Reasons why a midterm letter might receive a grade of F include:

  • Fails to fulfill the basic requirements of the assignment (e.g.: minimal or missing bibliography, no in-text citations).
  • Develops a very personal argument without sufficient reference to others (so that it should really be a letter to the editor rather than a project proposal).
  • Fails to use or cite research, or uses inappropriate research.
  • Focuses on the methods (how) while ignoring the researched justification (why).
  • Presents an overly broad, or unfocused, or inappropriately large topic.
  • Follows a "report of information" format, without a clear objective or application structuring the paper.
  • Fails to address a specific audience.
  • Exhibits a high level of error which interferes significantly with meaning.

C Range
C range papers not only address a reader's concerns but begin to use or reference research to justify an approach to those concerns. Often, they are making the appropriate gestures without reaching full potential. Also, they may try to define a problem and offer a somewhat justified solution, but the research is not yet fully sufficient or well enough deployed to make a solid case. The research does not yet begin to gel into a paradigm, and sometimes the paper still exhibits some residue of the "report" format. Alternatively, a student may rely too heavily on summary of sources and research findings, rather than having the source material directed toward a specific goal. Sometimes a C range paper relies too heavily on pathos rather than logos, which is usually a sign of insufficient research.

B Range
B range papers have a clear understanding of audience and purpose. They describe a problem and offer a solution that is justified by research. They should also begin to set forth (or at least suggest or point toward) a consensus view (or paradigm) that will justify the project objective. They are generally well presented and relatively error-free.

A Range
A range papers have a strong understanding of audience, purpose, and the means of persuasion at hand. They should offer a clear paradigm, where the student uses strong research and presents it with confidence. There should be very few errors in writing.

Determining Grades for the Oral Presentation

The oral presentation is both an "oral draft" of the final paper and an exercise in public speaking. Therefore, there is a need to balance the sometimes competing issues of content (including research, organization, and visual aids) with recognition of the form or style (including delivery, eye contact, and polish). One should focus most, though, on how well the presentation gives evidence that the student is prepared to write the final paper for the class, and our comments should focus most on how the student can revise the project for the final paper.

The strongest presentations (A and B range) feature clear organization, convincing logic, excellent references to evidence, clear and useful visual aids, and a confident delivery style. Weak (or C range) presentations tend to have scant evidence, few or indecipherable visual aids, poor organization, or an especially problem-ridden delivery.

Determining Grades for the Final Paper

F Range
Reasons why a final proposal might receive a grade of F include:

  • The paper is plagiarized, in whole or in part. (Instructors must bring all plagiarism issues immediately to a Writing Program director.)
  • The paper does not meet the basic requirements of the assignment (e.g.: no visual aids or no bibliography, missing crucial sections).
  • The writer does not use sufficient or appropriate documentation (i.e.: very few, very old or completely inappropriate sources) or does not support points with references.
  • The paper is written in the form of a report, and fails to focus information toward action.
  • The paper depends largely on undirected summary.
  • The level of basic organization interferes dramatically with the paper's meaning.  For example, the paragraphs do not follow logically or there is no apparent organizational structure.
  • Problems of sentence-level error (especially grammar and syntax) are so severe that they interfere with the paper's meaning and appear to be both serious and irremediable without another semester of work. Examples of serious error include sentence fragments, subject-verb agreement errors, or an over-reliance on simple sentences without transitions between them. Less severe (and passable) problems include spelling errors, misused apostrophes, and bad proofreading.
  • The writer does not project a basic competence in writing.

C Range
Papers usually fall into the C range if they have some of the following characteristics:

  • The level of research, organization, and logic are sufficient to demonstrate a basic competency.
  • The paper puts information in action and is not merely a report or summary.
  • The argument shows signs of promise even if it is not fully unified or fully developed.
  • The research, while sufficient to pass, does not seem to fulfill all of the needs of the student's argument. Perhaps certain essential facts are missing from an otherwise acceptable paper.
  • The writer ignores important difficulties or avoids dealing with salient issues.
  • The writer has not fully engaged with or considered the audience's concerns about this project.
  • The solution does not follow logically from the problem.
  • The paradigm does not mesh with the practice, or is not clearly delineated.
  • Generally, a paper that is competent but fails to organize the research into a paradigm will receive a C+ grade.
  • The visual aids are especially weak or carelessly prepared.
  • The level of error is high or shows signs of general and repeated carelessness.

B Range
A paper in the B range generally does most of the following to some extent:

  • Clearly describes or quantifies the problem or need to be addressed.
  • Has a sense of the paradigm or theoretical frame used to define the project.
  • Engages (and does not ignore) the difficulties suggested by the research or the plan.
  • Uses source materials well and places them in a logical relation to other sources and the thesis.
  • Responds to the needs or concerns of the likely audience (or funding source).
  • Strives to persuade the reader.
  • Seems feasible as a real world project.
  • Uses visual aids that are well explained and integrated into the proposal.
  • Guides the reader through the argument (using good transitions, sign posts, forecasting, etc.).
  • Has mostly error-free writing.

Often, a B range paper has a strong literature review but a weak plan, or alternately, an imaginative and well developed plan of action that is insufficiently supported by research.

A Range
An A paper has all of the qualities of a B paper, and distinguishes itself in at least some of the following ways:

  • Sets an especially challenging or original task that the student fulfills.
  • Demonstrates excellent or innovative research, which is well ordered and cited.
  • Organizes the research into a clearly and carefully delineated paradigm.
  • Uses graphics that are highly effective at conveying information.
  • Has almost completely error-free writing.
  • Has a degree of stylistic polish that exceeds the commonplace (though this alone does not make an A paper, it is often a contributing factor).
  • Exhibits a remarkably attractive appearance and visually appealing design.

The best A range projects are those in which the writer does more than merely import an existing paradigm into a new situation. There should be some attempt to modify the model and make it case-specific, expanding the paradigm.

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