Writing rubric

When I assign papers, I have a general rubric that I usually grade to, as specified below. Plus and minus grades are applied to reflect finer distinctions; the letter is then converted to a number according to the grading scale (as generously as possible, so an A- counts as a 90%, for instance).

C A C paper has a discernible thesis (where appropriate) or topic. The author made some progress towards addressing the thesis or topic. The language used is basically coherent.
B A B paper's thesis (where appropriate) or topic is clear. To support it, the author has done more than recap and paraphrase other work or make ``obvious'' statements. There is a clear flow to the text, no significant errors of fact, and no serious problems with grammar, punctuation, or spelling.
A An A paper has a strong conclusion or makes an interesting point, and presents insightful analysis. The author shows an understanding of the material from multiple angles and demonstrates a synthesis of ideas from multiple sources. There are essentially no factual errors or errors of grammar, punctuation, or spelling.
D In a D paper, the thesis (if present) is poorly supported or the topic wanders. ``Arguments'' are handwavy and have little real substance. Whole paragraphs may be restatements of arguments from other sources. The author may use technical language incorrectly and/or make significant errors of fact; and the writing itself (grammar, spelling, etc) may be distractingly difficult to follow.
F An F paper typically has no clear topic (or one inappropriate for the assignment), its text is not especially coherent, and there are often major language issues throughout.

The order of this rubric is not an accident. Rather than ``starting at A'' and chipping away points for errors, you should think of the sort of basically-competent blah paper you can pound out at 2am as a C, which you can edit and improve to get a better grade.

In most cases, the letter grade is driven primarily by the topic/thesis/argument/conclusion part of the rubric; if the more mechanical areas (flow, grammar, spelling) are better or worse than the letter might indicate, that's where a plus or minus gets assigned. On papers that permit revisions, a B paper (for instance) where you only adjust for grammar or spelling or other compositional issues might become a B+ paper but won't become an A- or A unless changes are made to upgrade the quality of argument or analysis.

There are six areas the Math/CS department is currently looking to focus on in student writing. These are: clearly stating a purpose; accomplishing that purpose; adequately developing the topic; logically sequencing the ideas; using appropriate language; and using proper grammar and punctuation. My comments will reflect this, and you can use this list to improve your own writing.