Essay Grades | Grammar | Workshopping Strategies for Writers | Workshopping Strategies for Readers

Welcome to my writing class!

Writing is a wonderful, creative process. It’s also difficult and demanding. To be a good writer requires lots and lots of time—reading, writing, drafting, drafting, drafting, and editing. It’s not easy! But producing strong writing is rewarding. Learning to write well will help you throughout your college career as well as in your professional one. It is my hope that through my class you will improve your writing and help others improve theirs. I hope you will also develop a writing process that caters to your strengths and allows you to express yourself effectively.

Essay Grades

Students often have questions about how much credit their essays will receive. Each essay has particular requirements, but in general:

1) to be considered for a “C” (average) grade, your essays needs to have an introduction, a clear thesis and forecast, a coherent structure, several reasonable points explained through PIE (point-illustatration-explanation) paragraphs, and a conclusion. Your essay needs to be fairly well edited and not contain careless mistakes.  Note that these requirements may be quite different from requirements you are familiar with from high school. Most basic analysis essays need to be at least a thousand words long to be effective.

2) to be considered for a “B,” your essay needs to satisfy the above criteria. In addition your essay needs a strong thesis (not just a surface observation) and several strong points that are thoroughly explained, probably with short quotes from the text. Your essay must be well edited, with only occasional mistakes.

3) to be considered for an “A,” your essay must satisfy all the above criteria. Your essay will also need a fresh thesis (not something general or something we discussed in class), multiple strong points, ample analysis, and a smooth writing style (variety in sentence structure and vocabulary). Your essay needs to be well edited, with hardly any mistakes.

Note that if your essay has lots and lots of grammar or punctuation mistakes, it will not receive a passing grade. 


There is no way around the fact that most people associate good grammar with intelligence.  Maybe you are not one of those "most people," but bosses and professors usually are.

To be effective, you need to write in Standard Written English.

There's no trick to doing so.  If you have problems with grammar, you have to target them and work on them one by one.   Most people don't have hundreds of kinds of mistakes.  Most people make several mistakes over and over, which adds up to a lot of ineffective writing.

Many native speakers have trouble with punctuation.  The fastest way to target your problems is probably for us to sit down and look at your punctuation together.  We can go through an essay or a page of your writing and look at particular passages that cause problems.

If you're a non-native speaker, you might have lots of problems with your grammar.  That's okay!  But let's get to work.  First, AFTER you finish writing the final version of your essay, proofread it yourself several times.  Then ask a friend to help you.  Then go to another friend, or if you don't trust your friends, come to my office.  If I'm not available (no office hours when you need them), call me and we can make an appointment or agree to meet at a certain time.  Or go to the Writing Center.

 Naturally, the more problems you have writing in Standard Written English, the longer the editing process will take.  That's okay!  Right now, this semester, is the very best time to attack your problems.  In the future, you don't want professors to think less of your work because of grammar.  And you surely don't want a potential boss to take one look at your resume, spot mistakes, and throw the resume in the trash.  (And you can take my word for it; if a potential boss has lots of resumes to choose from, and the prospective employees are similar in ability, the people who write in Standard Written English will get more consideration.)

I had a friend who tried to tell me, "hey, I'm a computer engineer.  I don't need to use good grammar. "  This friend got a job at Microsoft.  Everything was fine until he got promoted.  He suddenly found out that he couldn't write memos.  His boss expected memos to appear within fifteen minutes of his request for them.  Instead, because my friend had so many problems with English, a simple memo might take him over an hour.   It took a long, long time for him to receive a second promotion.  Reluctantly, he admitted that, indeed, grammar is important to engineers, too.  (You get the idea.)

Workshopping Strategies for Writers       

Workshopping is an excellent way to find out how your writing is working and to learn about yourself as a writer. While it's sometimes uncomfortable to discover that your draft isn't perfect, the way you respond to workshopping and opportunities for revision will probably determine your grade for this class. If you can dig in and make use of your classmates' (and my) comments, chances are that you will produce stronger, more effective, and more interesting papers.

That's not to say that your classmates will always be right!  Sometimes you will need to reject rather than embrace their advice.  The point is that by thinking carefully about the decisions you make in your writing, you'll develop a better sense of what it's doing and what it still needs to do.

Sharing your drafts with classmates provides you with lots of feedback.  It's interesting to see what happens when people read your work!  Sometimes you think a paragraph was clear, but readers interpret it in different ways.  At other times, readers point out ideas you never thought about.  Here's the beauty of being the writer--you make the final decisions.

Sharing your drafts will help your classmates, too, because they will have the chance to see how different people interpret and address the assignment.  They will expand their critical strategies through careful reading and commenting.

To have a successful workshopping session, you will have to take charge of it. Think of it this way: Your workshop is your time. Use it well by bringing as complete a draft as possible.  Don't worry if you didn't finish.  Bring what you can and feel free to include comments.  (What else should I add here?  I need help with a conclusion, etc.)

Workshopping Strategies for Readers

Note that giving your classmates feedback on their essays will:

1) help your classmates think about their essays;

2) help you become a more perceptive reader;

3) give you strategies for working through your own essays;

4) earn you homework credit

 Write comments on the margins of your classmates' drafts and also at the end.  Provide whatever information you think is the most useful.  Make "facilitative" comments to help the writers consider new lines of thought (How else could you prove this point?).  Write "directive comments" when you feel confident you know what's missing (Add more analysis).

 Throughout the essay:

  • Respond to aspects you find particularly interesting.  (I like this because....)
  • Praise parts that seem effective (writers don't always know what's working).
  • Warn writers about serious flaws (the essay doesn't match the assignment, you can't find a thesis, etc.).

  On the intro:

  • Is the title appropriate and interesting?
  • Does the intro catch your attention?
  • Are the thesis and forecast clear and complete?

On body paragraphs:

  • Does each TS (topic sentence) have a clear tie to the thesis or preceding paragraph?
  • Does the order of information support the line of argument?
  • Do the paragraphs have PIE? (point, illustration, explanation)
  • Where would additions or deletions eliminate confusion or solidify the argument?
  • How could the writer increase credibility?

 On the conclusion:

  • Does the conclusion do justice to the paper?  (A long paper needs more than a two-sentence conclusion.)
  • Does the conclusion provide closure, or does it present key points that should have come earlier?
  • How does the conclusion compare to the intro?  (They should be somewhat balanced.)

 For your end comment:

  • Give your overall impression of the essay's strengths and weaknesses
  • Encourage your classmates to produce stronger, more effective work
  • Respond as a reader--share some of your own views about this topic

Although using Standard Written English is important, drafting is not the time to worry about it.  Please ignore spelling and grammar at this stage unless you can't understand what the writer is trying to say.  (Editing should be the very final step in writing an essay.)