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Writing Guidelines

The following guidelines are designed to help you with essays written for the English Department at Dickinson College. The site includes four topics: "Editing," Documentaion," "Format," and "Grade Guidelines." To go directly to a topic, merely hit the [FIND] button above and type in the word or topic you need: "margins," "quotations," "spacing," "plagiarism," "B+," etc. You may also scroll through the complete set of guidelines.

To go to Editing Symbols (PDF).

Editing

Revision Questions

Clarity of Ideas
Review a completed, typed or printed copy of your essay as thoroughly and conscientiously as possible. To do this as a "reader," set the paper aside for a time before you work though these questions. Use the margins to make notes to yourself.

Assignment
Review the assignment. Have you fulfilled all of its requirements?

Thesis
Precisely where in your essay do you present your thesis?

Does your thesis address a problematic issue about your topic or does it merely restate a self-evident position?

Does your essay have a title that introduces your reader to your topic and, perhaps, to your thesis?

Argument
Do you gracefully make clear your "plan of attack," your method of organization, either in advance or as you go?

Does each generalization, assertion, or inference follow clearly from the last, or are there logical gaps or weaknesses in transition?

Are there points at which your intended audience would likely be unclear, or confused, about what you are trying to say?

Do you avoid unnecessary repetition of ideas?

Are there points at which your argument is dubious or unconvincing because you have not explained your ideas fully or have not added sufficient evidence?

Do you analyze and interpret, rather than merely summarize, a plot, a critical approach, or a cultural context?

Do you define key terms?

Have you adequately supported your position by citations to the primary text(s)?

Evidence
Are all generalizations, assertions, and inferences supported by specific evidence, in the form of either actual quotations or precise references to primary or secondary sources?

When you use a quotation, have you analyzed its significance to your position?

Context
Does your essay show an overall, comprehensive understanding of both the primary text(s) and the critical, cultural, or historical context(s) with which you are dealing?

Conclusion
Whether or not you see the evidence as "conclusive," does your argument reach--not an empty summary--but a clear conclusion?

Do you address the usefulness, significance, or implications of what you have determined?

Words and Style

Look at your paper sentence by sentence: Have you consistently chosen words that effectively convey your meaning? Does the style of the sentences effectively embody your ideas? Appropriate choice of words and style is based in part on topic and audience. Ask me if you are unsure what is appropriate for a given assignment. Only the most general suggestions are included here.

General and specific words: For stylistic interest, as well as clarity of ideas, use both general and specific words. Because abstract terms are not always understood by everyone in precisely the same way, define and illustrate all words central to your argument.

Colloquialisms and jargon: Colloquialisms: Avoid slang in the formal or semi-formal essay. This is partly a matter of convention, partly of clarity: colloquial language is ephemeral. Jargon: Avoid words so closely associated with a particular group, such as an occupation or an academic discipline, that they are likely to be unfamiliar to your audience.

Weak constructions: A sentence may be a weak or ineffective statement of your ideas, even though it is not awkward or grammatically incorrect. Such weak constructions should be avoided.

The first person: The use of "I" is usually acceptable in formal critical and analytical writing, but it should be used sparingly. Your reader assumes that the ideas and opinions in a paper are yours unless they are attributed to someone else. Avoid obvious and wordy phrases such as "In my opinion . . . ," "I think that . . . ," or "It is my personal belief that . . . ."

Passive voice: Limit the use of passive voice: "John threw the ball" is usually preferable to "The ball was thrown by John." The passive is wordy and often vague, especially when the "doer" or "actor" is not identified: e.g. "It is often thought that . . . ."

Grammar and Punctuation: Is your essay without grammatical and punctuation errors? You are responsible for using standard form. In editing and revising your essay, consult the Handbook. If you have further questions, the professor will be glad to discuss the problem with you.

Documentation and Format: Are all references fully documented? Are all citations, quotations, and titles in correct form? Is the manuscript in the proper format? You are responsible for using the standard form outlined in English Department handouts and detailed in the Handbook. After you have consulted them, ask me if you have further questions.

Documentation

What must be documented?
Any idea, logic of argument, or phraseology derived from an outside source must be documented. You must give credit for all borrowed material: e.g. quotations from, and references to, primary and secondary sources; facts, data, and statistics; opinions, ideas, and interpretations which you have gathered from your reading and research. Borrowed material must be acknowledged whether you paraphrase, summarize, or quote directly. The only exception is what is loosely termed "general knowledge" or "common knowledge," information or ideas generally known and accepted by writer and audience. Note: what is "common knowledge" may not be the same for senior majors and for those in an introductory course.

What is plagiarism?
The Dickinson College Plagiarism Policy:
To plagiarize is to use without proper citation or acknowledgment the words, ideas or original research of another. Whenever one relies on someone else for phraseology, even for only two or three words, one must acknowledge indebtedness by using quotation marks and giving the source, either in the text or in a footnote. When one borrows facts which are not matters of general knowledge--including all statistics--one must indicate one's indebtedness in the text or footnote. When one borrows an idea or the logic of an argument, one must acknowledge indebtedness either in a footnote or in the text.

When in doubt--footnote.

Most plagiarism in unintentional, the result of ignorance or inaccurate note-taking. Your paper, however, cannot be evaluated by guesses about your intention; it can only be evaluated as it exists. Whether the plagiarism is intentional or inadvertent, the penalty is severe. Read the discussion and examples carefully; if you have questions, consult with your instructor.

In the following pages, the Department of English appreciates permission to include common causes of plagiarism, together with some of the description of inadequate note-taking, from the section on "Plagiarism" in the 1990 Handbook for Freshman Seminar Faculty.

Documentation

Ideas: You must document all ideas and arguments borrowed from an outside source.

Citation Incorrect or Insufficient

Cause: Taking notes carelessly
Citations document ideas that you have borrowed or that you share with others. Quoted and paraphrased material must be accompanied by citations specific enough to allow the reader to know the exact place in a source to which you are referring.

Take notes in brief sections; include the specific source and page number at short intervals. If you do not, you will think that all the material comes from the same place when it does not. Then you will cite it incorrectly; or you will notice the omission and spend countless hours trying to retrace your steps and relocate the source and page--a terrible waste of time.

You should neither in your notes, nor in your paper, string together selected quotations from several pages in a source and then use a single broad citation to those pages.

When you paraphrase ideas in your notes, document carefully so that, if you include them in your paper, you have the citation ready.

Remember: whether they are in your words or are quoted, borrowed ideas must have a citation. The absence of a citation is one form of plagiarism.

Cause: Confusion about references to a source within a source.

You must always cite the source from which you actually obtained the information. If you have not yourself read a work--e.g. scholarly research, a poem, a book in a foreign language--then you must cite the secondary source in which you learned about the ideas (together with the proper form for reference to the primary material). Misrepresenting your sources is a form of plagiarism. Remember also that scholars and critics often refer to the ideas of others with which they do not agree; be sure to make this distinction clear.

Citation Absent

Cause: Mistaking original work for "common knowledge" or "truth."
Do not be confused by a source that presents facts, theories, and conclusions in an authoritative manner; "style" does not make the ideas and information "common knowledge." To avoid plagiarizing, develop your own critical judgment and the habit of asking "whose idea is this?" Unless you are sure that "everybody knows" something, use citations.

Citation Absent

Cause: Failure to recognize borrowing the logic of an argument.
If you take all your notes from one source, either in a notebook or on pads of paper, you may not notice that you are reproducing the order and logic of the argument in that source. The result may be your using this same organization in your paper, giving the impression to your reader that it is your own. As you know from your experience in writing papers, ideas and organization can not exist separately; one embodies the other: both "belong to" the author. Taking notes on cards--which can then be organized according to your thesis and argument, your organization--may help you avoid plagiarizing another's logic of argument.

Plagiarism: Logic of Argument

Example:
[1] We must understand how culture affects us if our social behavior is not to be determined by the ideas of others or the pervasiveness of TV. [2] A country such as the United States may seem too big and too diverse to have a problem with conformity. [3] However, even though we don't imprison people for beliefs unlike those of Middle America, [4] many think themselves superior to "weirdos" or make fun of them. [5] We don't have to receive public recognition to stay within cultural limits. Acceptance by peers is reward enough for many.

[This example is unacceptable without a citation; with a citation, it would be an adequate paraphrase of the source.]

Source
Greenblatt, Stephen "Culture," Critical Terms for Literature Study. Ed. Frank Lentricchia and Thomas McLaughlin. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990. 225-32.

Source:
[1] How can we get the concept of culture to do more work for us? We might begin by reflecting on the fact that the concept gestures toward what appear to be opposite things: constraint and mobility. The ensemble of beliefs and practices that form a given culture function as a pervasive technology of control, a set of limits within which social behavior must be contained, a repertoire of models to which individuals must conform. [2] The limits need not be narrow--in certain societies, such as that of the United States, they can seem quite vast--but they are not infinite, and the consequences for straying beyond them can be severe. [3] The most effective disciplinary techniques practiced against those who stray beyond the limits of a given culture are probably not the spectacular punishments reserved for serious offenders--exile, imprisonment in an insane asylum, penal servitude, or execution--[4] but seemingly innocuous responses: a condescending smile, laughter poised between the genial and the sarcastic, small dose of indulgent pity laced with contempt, cool silence. [5] And we should add that a culture's boundaries are enforced more positively as well: through the system of rewards that range again from the spectacular (grand public honors, glittering prizes) to the apparently modest (a gaze of admiration, a respectful nod, a few words of gratitude. (225 - 26)

Documentation

Words: Quotation marks are required when borrowing as few as two or three words.

Quotation Marks Absent

Cause: Taking notes carelessly
If you do not mark quotations correctly as you take your notes, when you come to use them, you may copy someone else's words into your paper and present them as if they were your own.

Plagiarism: Word for Word

Example: underlined words
Greenblatt wants to [1] get the concept of culture to do more work for us. Because he sees both [2] constraint and mobility in the concept, he finds that a [3] given culture is [4] controlled by [5] the beliefs and practices that form it.

[Merely inserting quotation marks cannot correct this example; it is wholly unacceptable.]

Plagiarism: Memorable Phrase

Example: bold-faced words

Culture acts as a pervasive technology of control. We are not imprisoned for our beliefs, it is true, but we are subject to the condescending smile, pity laced with contempt, or cool silence.

[With accurate quotation marks and a citation, this example would be correctly documented; however, excessive quotation makes it stylistically weak.]

Source:
How can we [1] get the concept of culture to do more work for us? We might begin by reflecting on the fact that the concept gestures toward what appear to be opposite things: [2] constraint and mobility. The ensemble of (5) beliefs and practices that form a [3] given culture function as a pervasive technology of [4] control, a set of limits within which social behavior must be contained, a repertoire of models to which individuals must conform . . . . The most effective disciplinary techniques practiced against those who stray beyond the limits of a given culture are probably not the spectacular punishments reserved for serious offenders--exile, imprisonment in an insane asylum, penal servitude, or execution--but seemingly innocuous responses: a condescending smile, laughter poised between the genial and the sarcastic, a small dose of indulgent pity laced with contempt, cool silence. (225 - 26)

Documentation

Words

Inaccurate quotation and poor paraphrasing

Cause: Taking notes carelessly
Quotations must be absolutely accurate (with square brackets and ellipsis where needed). Paraphrases must be a fair restatement of the author's ideas and must be completely in your own words: substitution of synonyms, reordering of sentence parts, or alteration of verb tenses do not constitute paraphrasing. If you cannot state an idea in wholly different words and sentences, then quote it accurately. Either way, you must cite the source of the ideas.

Plagiarism: Poor Paraphrasing and Inaccurate Quotation

Example:
Poor paraphrasing: Underlined words

Direct Quotation: bold-faced words

Culture as a concept should do more for us. The concept points towards what seem to be opposites: conformity and individuality. The practices and beliefs of a culture control us through a set of limits on social behavior, models that people have to live within. Even in a country like the United States in which the limits don't seem narrow, they are there, and the results of going outside them can be strong.

[Merely inserting quotation marks cannot correct this example; it is wholly unacceptable.]

Source:
How can we get the concept of culture to do more work for us? We might begin by reflecting on the fact that the concept gestures toward what appear to be opposite things: constraint and mobility. The ensemble of beliefs and practices that form a given culture function as a pervasive technology of control, a set of limits within which social behavior must be contained, a repertoire of models to which individuals must conform. The limits need not be narrow--in certain societies, such as that of the United States, they can seem quite vast--but they are not infinite, and the consequences for straying beyond them can be severe. (225 - 26)

Format

Manuscript

What difference does it make? First impressions are important. Your manuscript should be in standard form so that your audience will not be distracted from fully concentrating on your ideas.

Printing or typing
Papers should be printed on a typewriter or computer. (Consult with your instructor if you find this a difficult requirement to meet.) Be sure the ribbon is dark enough to produce legible type; when using fanfold paper, always remove the perforated strips and separate the sheets.

Page numbers
Place page numbers at the top right hand corner of all pages (except the first); or place at the bottom center of all pages. Use the number alone, in plain type.

Margins
Use one-inch top, bottom, left, and right margins.

Titles
Print the title in plain type: no underlining, italics, or quotation marks unless the title of your essay includes the title of another work.

With a title page: Center the title in the middle of the page. In the lower right-hand corner, single-spaced, put your name, the course title, and the date.

Without a title page: In the upper left-hand corner of the first page, single-spaced, put your name, the course title, and the date. Center the title two inches from the top of the page.

Spacing
Double space the paper, including short quotations incorporated into your text. According to the newest MLA form, indented quotations should also be double-spaced; however, some instructors prefer single-spacing for indented quotations. Ask whether your instructor has a preference.

Indentation
Indent a half-inch (use the tab with word processing) to mark the beginning of paragraphs. Indent a long quotation one-inch (two tabs).

Binding
Clip or staple the pages together in the upper left-hand corner. Do NOT use plastic or cardboard binders.

Format

Punctuation

Titles

Long works

Titles are underlined (or italicized). Long works are those published separately.

Examples: Soft Water (novel); Waiting for Godot (play); In Memoriam (long poem); Walden (book); Citizen Kane (film); Newsweek (magazine); New York Times (newspaper); Eighteen-Century Studies (scholarly journal).

Short works

Titles are enclosed in quotation marks. Short works are those published as part of a longer work or collection.

Examples: "Young Goodman Brown" (short story); "The Raven" or "I like to see it lap the Miles--" (poems); "Alexander's Ragtime Band" (song); "The Influence of Anne Bradstreet on Ernest Hemingway" (article); "Pericles Psychoanalyzed" (chapter).

Special Marks of Punctuation
Square brackets

Use [ ] --not parentheses—when you insert a word or phrase into quotation.

The ellipsis (three spaced periods . . . )
Use the ellipsis to mark words omitted from the middle of a quotation. When the omitted words are from the beginning or end of a quoted sentence, use the ellipsis only if the omission leaves a quotation that erroneously appears to be the complete sentence in the original. If an ellipsis comes at the end of a quotation included as part of your sentence, any mark of punctuation needed for your sentence comes after the ellipsis (example: . . . ." for the end of your sentence; or . . . ," for the end of a clause).

When incorporating a few words, a phrase, or clause into your own sentence, no ellipsis is needed.

When omitting an entire line or more of poetry, insert a full line of spaced periods.

Format

Parenthetical Citations

Prose: fiction and non-fiction
Put the author's last name and the page number in parentheses, with no comma between them. If you mention the author's name in your text, put only the page number in the citation.

Example: He bids you look again at Hester's scarlet letter (Hawthorne 1251).
or He bids you look again at Hester's scarlet letter (1251).

If, in your essay, you refer to more than one work by the same author, include the title, or a shortened version of the title, after the author's name; use a comma to separate author and title.

Example: . . . he bears on his own breast (Hawthorne, Letter, 1251).

If you refer to two different authors with same last name, give the first and last name in the citation.

Example: Behold a dreadful witness of it (Nathaniel Hawthorne 1251).

Short Quotations:
When you have a quotation or a reference to a work, put the citation in parentheses at the end of a sentence containing borrowed material. Put the period after the citation.

Example: . . . What has seared his inmost heart (Hawthorne 1251).

Indented Quotations:
Put the citation in parentheses at the end of the last line of the block quote and after the last mark of punctuation; if there isn't enough room, place it on right hand side of the next line.

Example: . . . what he bears on his own breast. (1251)
or . . . it is but the shadow of what he bears on his own breast. (1251)

Drama
Follow the form for long and short quotations shown above.

After a reference to the work or a quotation, put the act, scene, and line numbers in parentheses.

Example: (3.4.20-24)

If act, scene, or line numbers are not used, only then should you cite the page number.

Example: (23-24)

Format

Parenthetical Citations

Poetry

Short Quotations:
When you have a quotation or a reference to poetry, put the line numbers in parenthesis after the quotation mark. Follow this with the appropriate punctuation for your sentence; for example: a period, if the citation appears at the end of a sentence; a comma, if it appears after an introductory clause.

Example: What nature would, God grant to yours and you (14).

If the name of the poem from which the lines are quoted is not stated in your text, add a short form of the title. If the author of the lines is not clear, include the last name, followed by a short form of the title.

Examples: ("Before the Birth" 14) or (Bradstreet, "Before the Birth" 14)

Indented Quotations:
Put the citation in parentheses at the end of the last line of the block quote and after the last mark of punctuation; if there isn't enough room, place it on right hand side of the next line.

Examples: [That] I may seem thine, who in effect am none. (44-50)
or [That] I may seem thine, who in effect am none. (44-50)

Poems with numbered books, cantos and stanzas:
Use a form similar to the form for drama.

Examples: book and lines: (2. 116-17); book, canto and stanza: (3. 4. 2).

Format

Works Cited

At the end of the paper, append a list of works cited, or bibliography, listing the works actually cited in your text. Check the assignment to see if your instructor also wants a list of works consulted.

Entries are arranged in alphabetical order according to the author's last names. If no author is given, the entry is placed according to the first major word in the title. Two sample entries are illustrated here:

Examples:

Scholarly journal:

Novy, Marianne. "Patriarchy and Play in The Taming of the Shrew."

English Literary Renaissance 9 (1979): 264-80.

Book:

Stone, Lawrence. The Family, Sex and Marriage: In England 1500-1800. Abridged Edition. New York: Harper, 1979.

For a detailed description of citations and Works Cited entries for many types of works--such as books, articles, journals, essays, films, newspapers--see the Handbook or the latest edition of the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers.

Format

Quotations

When to Use
Quotations, from primary and secondary sources, are used as evidence to support or clarify an interpretation or an argument.

How to Use
Avoid unnecessary quotations and keep them short. Always discuss the quotations you use. Try to include them within the paragraph: avoid beginning or ending a paragraph with a quotation. Words and phrases: put quotation marks around words or phrases coined by, unique to, or identified with, a particular source (see "Documentation").

Format for Short Quotations

Prose
Up to four of lines (on your printed copy): incorporate into your text and enclose in double quotation marks.

Poetry
Up to three lines of verse: incorporate into your text and enclose in double quotation marks. The end of each line must be marked with a slash; the first word of each line must be capitalized (or not) as it is in the original.

Introduction of a short quotation
Phrases such as "According to Smith," or "In Shakespeare's sonnet, the speaker says," are followed by a comma. Very short quotations can usually be worked into your text with no introductory punctuation.

Format for Longer Quotations
Use indentation to identify the quotation, not quotation marks. Double-space unless your instructor tells you to single-space.

Prose
More than four lines (on your printed copy): indent approximately one inch (two tabs).

Poetry
More than three lines: each line of verse must be indented approximately one inch; the lines must appear exactly as they are in the original: the first word of each line must be capitalized (or not) as it is in the original. No slash is used to mark the end of the lines.

Introduction of an indented quotation
Use a complete sentence ending with a colon. Never split a sentence of your text with a long quotation.

Format for Quotations within quotations
In short quotations, use single quotation marks to enclose quotations within quotations; in indented quotations, use double quotation marks.

Format

Illustrations

Short Quotations

Prose: from a student paper on

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

When Dimmesdale returns to the subject of his own sinfulness, he does so by referring to himself in the third person: "But there stood one in the midst of you, at whose brand of sin and infamy ye have not shuddered" (1252). Stepping "passionately forward a pace" (1252), he finally stands on his own with a last opportunity to prove his adoration of the truth. However, cowardice draws him back again.

Use of quotations: The quotation is used, not to summarize or retell the plot, but to illustrate and support the argument that Dimmesdale's use of the third person is a sign of his cowardice.

Punctuation with quotations: Because the introductory sentence and the quotation each form a complete sentence, the writer uses a colon to introduce the quotation.

Citation form: The page number appears in parentheses, immediately after the quotation.

Punctuation with citation: The citation comes outside the quotation marks but inside the following mark of punctuation.

Poetry: from a student paper on

"Before the Birth of One of her Children" by Ann Bradstreet

An undercurrent of doubt and tension continues when she writes, "And if I see not half my days that's due, / What nature would, God grant to yours and you" (13-14). Bradstreet wishes that God "grant" her husband a longer life than she is assuming He will give her. However, in using the word "due," Bradstreet resentfully implies that she is "owed" more than "half" her allotted lifetime, and she continues this thought in the next line by obliquely pointing out that in taking away half her time God contradicts "What nature would" award her if left to its own designs.

Use of quotations: The writer analyses, as well as quotes, the lines and words.

Punctuation with quotations: A comma is used after a phrase or a clause--"when she writes,"--introducing a quotation. A slash is used to mark the end of the line; the first word of each line is capitalized the way it is in the original text. Quotations of half lines do not need an ellipsis at the beginning and end if, as is the case here, they comprise a complete grammatical unit in the original text.

Citation form: The line numbers appear in parenthesis.

Punctuation with citation: The citation comes outside the quotation mark, but inside the following mark of punctuation.

Format

Illustrations

Indented Quotations

Prose: from a student paper on

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Dimmesdale does draw a parallel between Hester's condition and his own, but he never admits to their adulterous liaison:

He bids you look again at Hester's scarlet letter! He tells you, that, with all its mysterious horror, it is but the shadow of what he bears on his own breast, and that even this, his own red stigma, is no more than the type of what has seared his inmost heart! Stand any here that question God's judgement on a sinner? . . . Behold a dreadful witness of it!

(1251)

His concluding line-- "behold a dreadful witness of it"--and the baring of his chest which follows is not a conclusion at all. According to his own words, the "brand of sin" on his chest (which may or may not exist) serves only as a symbol of "God's judgement on a sinner." Dimmesdale does not clearly state what his sin was before he dies.

Use of quotation: The introduction suggests to the reader what to look for in the quotation without giving away the author's complete point.

Introduction of quotation: The quotation is introduced by a complete sentence followed by a colon.

Special punctuation: Ellipsis: Because something has been omitted from the direct quotation, the writer uses the ellipsis.

Citation form: The page number follows the blocked quote, after the final mark of punctuation. When, later in the paragraph, the writer refers to, or quotes, words or phrases from the same quotation, another citation is not needed.

Use of quotations: The sentences after the quotation discuss it and refer to specific words and phrases that the writer wants to emphasize.

Punctuation with quotations: No ellipsis is used when the writer quotes words or phrases; when these quoted words or phrases appear at the end of a sentence, the punctuation is appropriate to the writer's sentence, not the punctuation in the original.

Format

Illustrations

Indented Quotations

Poetry: from a student paper on

"Before the Birth of One of her Children" by Anne Bradstreet.

Following the mediation, Bradstreet directly addresses her husband and through the rest of the poem struggles with what their relationship means:

[Because] All things within this fading world hath end,

. . . . . . . . .

How soon, my Dear, death may my steps attend,

How soon't may be thy lot to lose thy friend,

We both are ignorant, yet love bids me

These farewell lines to recommend to thee,

That when that knot's untied that made us one,

I may seem thine, who in effect am none. (1, 7-12)

Bradstreet's choice of the word "recommend," with its connotation of "suggest," implies that she still wants to "seem" to be her husband's after death. Her reference to being "none" could also mean "nothing," that she will be no one else's in death, perhaps not even God's. By carefully inserting ambiguous words, Bradstreet imbeds suggestions to her husband that are in direct conflict with their church's doctrine.

Use of Quotation: The introduction suggests to the reader what to look for in the quotation without giving away the author's complete point.

Introduction of quotation: The quotation is introduced by a full sentence followed by a colon.

Special Punctuation: Square brackets: The square brackets indicate that the writer has inserted a word into the direct quotation.

Ellipsis: The line of spaced periods shows that at least one full line of verse has been omitted.

Citation form: The line numbers appear on the last line of verse; if there isn't enough room for the whole citation on one line, then it should be placed on the right side of the next line.

Use of Quotations: The long quotation is included so that the reader can see the implications in Bradstreet's choice of words. The lines in the indented quotation are discussed in the essay.

Grade Guidelines

A Essays graded at the highest level are exciting, illuminating, and convincing. They usually contain all of the following:

Originality of thought in formulating, stating, and developing a thesis.

Clarity and logic of ideas.

Judicious use and analysis of quoted evidence from primary sources and (if applicable) secondary sources.

Concentration on the thesis or main point such that evidence and argument relate to, qualify, or support that thesis throughout.

Careful construction and organization of sections, paragraphs, and sentences in the essay.

Appropriate, effective, even graceful style and diction.

Conventional grammar, spelling, punctuation, and documentation (at the most, only one or two isolated errors).

A- These essays are only minimally less impressive (but more numerous) than those at the highest level. A- work is often slightly flawed in one or two of the seven categories listed above, but still represents academic excellence.

B+ Superior but not exceptional work. Essays at this level show careful thought and execution, mastery of both topic and compositional skills, but little that is extremely exciting. Generally, minor problems in several categories of the seven categories are in evidence, but a B+ essay is, all in all, very good.

B Better than average in content, form, and style, a paper in this range usually lacks the originality, mastery, and polish which characterize the best essays. There are minor problems in a majority of the seven areas, though the essay has a clearly stated thesis, an adequate development of clear and relevant ideas, and positive stylistic qualities. Sometimes this essay contains good ideas but relies uncritically on secondary sources, errs in analysis of quoted primary material, or demonstrates problems in paragraphing, transitions, punctuation, and style. Still, this essay is a work of some distinction.

B- Only slightly above average, this essay still represents solid work, careful preparation, and accurate perceptions about the topic examined. But essays at this level offer very little original thought and may have defects in all the categories which are too obvious to consider merely minor. This and the grade just below it are found on the largest number of essays.

C+ Average or satisfactory work, this essay is similar to the one above but contains a serious problem in one of the seven categories or a problem with accuracy in interpreting a literary text. Yet this paper has virtues which make up for some of its difficulties. No one should feel that an average paper at Dickinson is shameful; this paper would be evaluated much more highly at many lesser institutions.

C/C- Barely satisfactory and below average, these papers suffer from major problems in several categories. They may be organizationally, stylistically, or conventionally satisfactory but lack accurate, logical, not to mention original, ideas. Often they present a mere report, repeating either class material or common knowledge. Sometimes they lack any supporting evidence and fail to analyze quoted material. On the other hand, the major problems could be largely in the area of writing skills. A fairly penetrating piece could be damaged by a faulty organization which fails to concentrate on the thesis. The C- essay could be stylistically irresponsible, making little effort to provide the conventional grammar or appropriate diction required for a clear reception by the reader.

D+/D/D- Passing to barely passing, these essays have more of the serious problems noted above and fewer redeeming virtues. A paper at this level is a poor achievement in thought and expression. Its thesis is not formulated with sufficient clarity nor presented with sufficient completeness, and it usually contains errors in the use of English. Such a paper may be little more than a plot summary, or it may lack supporting evidence to the point that it is merely a web of unsubstantiated claims. With more careful proofreading and revision, or with fuller development, a paper in this range might have been raised to the next higher level, but the results may not derive from sloppiness. It is possible that the author of a D paper needs help in composition and should take a writing course or at least a few trips to the Writing Center.

F Failing work. An essay at this level has a very poor thesis, a very badly stated thesis, or often, no thesis at all. Its development is scant, illogical, or irrelevant, and its organization is unclear or non-existent. Its style is repugnant, and serious errors in the use of the English interfere with the readers understanding. This essay is a much more desperate version of the type in the next highest range.

Susan Perabo, Chair star iconperabo@dickinson.edu
Kelly Winters-Fazio, Department Coordinator star icon wintersk@dickinson.edu

English Department Dickinson College
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