Most of our work in writing courses at Oberlin emphasizes the benefits of writing as a multi-draft process, as a way to think through various understandings of a subject that are not perfect in and of themselves. Eventually, however, the time comes for a teacher to determine whether or not a student's writing meets the proficiency standards we expect of Oberlin College graduates. To help students and teachers know what qualities we look for in proficient writing, we have developed the following criteria.
We'd like to stress that this is not a description of a writing process. Instead it's a list of the characteristics we look for in a finished piece of writing, followed by a more detailed description of those characteristics. In normal typeface after each item we describe more fully what we mean by what we've just named. To learn about the writing process, visit our free tutoring service in the library (place and times will be posted on the Writing Associates Program website) or our offices in King 139.
- The essay has a unifying idea or thesis that clearly addresses the assignment. The main idea is clearly stated or implied and is an appropriate response to the topic. Focus on this idea is sharp throughout. There are no counterproductive digressions or tangents.
- The thesis is substantial and appropriately restricted. The main idea is not unduly broad; moreover, it shows that the writer has taken the challenge of the assignment seriously. There is evidence of sound analytic and/or evaluative thinking.
- The essay provides a thorough and well-supported discussion of its thesis. There are enough points to advance the discussion, and each point is well developed. Evidence is given where appropriate, and, when offered, it is detailed and specific. The student is clearly using the writing as a tool to probe and comprehend the subject.
- The essay has a logical or otherwise systematic structure. There is a beginning, middle, and end. These parts are in proper proportion to each other. The essay's points and subpoints are arranged according to some plan. Order may be chronological, topical, spatial, or otherwise logical, but there is a definite order that is appropriate to the nature of the discussion. Moreover, the order chosen is not demonstrably inferior to some other order that might have better highlighted the writer's ideas and purposes.
- The essay shows the writer's awareness of a rhetorical purpose appropriate to the question chosen. The essay persuades, informs, or explains as needed. Content, structure, and language are well suited to the purpose.
- The grammar, usage, spelling, punctuation, and reference form used in the essay are at least as correct as is reasonable to expect in the time given. Errors in mechanics are minimal. If any elementary errors appear, they are not sufficiently numerous or egregious to distract the reader. In any case no more than a few errors are present in the essay.
- The essay is written in a clear, concise style. Vocabulary is appropriate and varied. Phrasing is clear and fresh, with a minimum of cliches. There is no evidence of wordiness. Passive voice is used only where appropriate (as in this sentence)