When I grade papers for analytical content, I evaluate four features of the paper: Thesis, Argument, Use of Evidence, and Writing Style. I assign 25 points to each feature and after reading and commenting on the paper assign some portion of the 25 points to each feature. I then total the number of points I've awarded to come up with a percentage grade for the paper. I assign a letter grade based on the standard curve (e.g., 98-100 = A+; 93-97 = A; 90-92 = A-; etc.). I have provided comments below that describe what I look for in evaluating each feature of a paper. My hope is that you will use this information to help you edit your rough drafts of your papers. I would be more than happy to give out all "A's," if your papers warrant it. In all honesty, however, I should tell you that I'm more than happy to give out "F's" for papers that deserve them.
Your thesis (i.e., the conclusion you will argue for in your paper), should be clearly stated in the first few paragraphs of your paper (ideally in the first). It should also be interesting.
Thesis statements can be complex or interesting in at least two ways. First, a thesis may propose a novel juxtaposition of two or more ideas. For example, a thesis arguing that Plato's Apology demonstrates that philosophy and democracy (or philosophy and rhetoric) are inimical enterprises is inherently interesting. Second, a thesis can achieve complexity by requiring that argument of several related points. For example, a thesis might argue that the Passion of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity demonstrates that the success of Christianity in the Roman Empire depended in part on the gendered constructs of Greco-Roman culture. To prove this thesis, the writer would have to 1) identify gender constructs in Greco-Roman culture that limited the public and private identities of women; and 2) demonstrate that the proponents of early Christianity deliberately offered those it proselytized social identities that defied or undermined such constructions of gender.
A paper which argues well a relatively obvious thesis will not earn as good a grade as one which argues well a more thoughtful thesis. For example, a thesis arguing that Plato's portrait of Socrates in the Apology is colored by his own aristocratic background and oligarchic tendencies will, unless argued extremely well, not impress me as much as the kinds I've described above.
Finally, a word about common sense. If you're writing a short paper (and 5 pages is short), you cannot argue an extremely complex thesis well. Remember it took Gibbon three volumes to prove his point about the fall of the Roman empire. So do not let your quest for a novel and original thesis overwhelm your ability to actually argue well within the page limit. Remember, I understand the balancing act writing a good, short essay requires. I do not expect you prove the existence of God in five pages. However, I do expect you to spend some time and energy finding the most thoughtful thesis you can argue in five pages.
Your argument proves your thesis. I decide if a think a paper is argued well in the following manner. First, I determine whether every paragraph has a topic sentence. Second, I review the topic sentences in order to see whether they logically advance your argument towards the thesis you have articulated in the first paragraph. This is a relatively mechanical process that you can do at home with your first draft of your paper. If you do it, you will quickly identify any flaws in your argument and/or its presentation. You can also fix such problems with relative ease. If you don't do it, you will lose a significant number of points on your paper.
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The most important way you advance your argument and ultimately "prove" your thesis is by reference to the evidence. You will be using two types of evidence in your papers. The first kind of evidence comprises primary source material from the Roman Empire (e.g., a letter of Cicero; the ruins of the Circus Maximus). In your papers, your "evidence" will be the primary texts we have read in class. I will evaluate two aspects of the way you use this kind of evidence. First, do you use it? For example, if you were making an argument about Cicero's attitude towards Catiline, and furthering your argument by analyzing the way Cicero addressed Catiline compared to the way he addressed other Roman senators (e.g., "scurrilous cur" vs. "conscript father"), I would expect to find jump cites (cite to a specific oration, paragraph and line, e.g. Cat. 1.41.3) to passages in the Catilinarians for both types of references. An argument that simply asserted that Cicero always addressed Catiline with disrespect will not impress me as much as one which actually refers me to evidence in the orations.
The second kind of evidence you will use is secondary scholarship about the primary source material. Secondary scholarship is not evidence about the Roman Empire (although some types of secondary scholarship contain or describe primary evidence: e.g., archeological site reports; publications of texts). Typically, secondary scholarship contains the judgment, analysis and arguments of scholars about primary source material or provides a convenient and accepted authority for a factual assertion you wish to make in your argument.
This second type of use of secondary scholarship is the most straightforward. You cite secondary scholarship for authority on points which are necessary for your argument and are not particularly controversial, but which you wouldn't have known had you not read it somewhere else. Say, for example, that you chose to write a paper about the relationship to municipal and Roman civic identity and chose Cicero as your example. You would early in argument note that Cicero was born in the year 106 B.C.E. in the town of Arpinum. For these factual assertions, you could cite the Oxford Classical Dictionary, N.G.L. Hammond and H.H. Scullard, eds. (Oxford, 1970; 2nd ed.), p. 234. By citing the OCD, you are showing me that you have researched the factual basis for the argument you have made in your paper. This is a very good thing to do. You will also find that if you stop and ask yourself, "how do I know this" about factual assertions that you make in your argument, you will quickly identify unproven assumptions in your paper. Unproven assumptions are the single greatest killers of otherwise good paers. So, cite early and often.
In researching your paper, however, you will get lots of ideas about municipal and civic identity formation from scholarly articles and books folks have written on the topic. When, why and how do you cite this scholarship? The Bates College Statement on Plagiarism provides one of the most thorough discussion of these questions I have read. It also provides very useful information on citation style (i.e., what information to include in a cite and in a bibliography). I urge you to read and use the information contained in this Statement. I will assume that you have when I grade your paper.
As for my own point of view, I think we cite for several reasons. First, to show that we have done research on the topic..
Second, we cite as a matter of integrity and courtesy. Scholarship is a form of conversation or dialogue. When a previous speaker in the conversation has said something smart that helps our thinking or argument, politeness demands that we show our gratitude by citing that person. Because scholarly dialogue is not immediate but often occurs over generations, these rules of courtesy become particularly important. You, for example, might decide to read some Gibbon and be profoundly influenced by an argument he makes in a footnote of the third volume. Unless I am a Gibbon freak (which I not), the odds of me recognizing the influence of Gibbon on your thinking is quite limited. It would be unfair to me not to indicate, by citation, Mr. Gibbon's influence on your thinking. [It would be most ungracious and dishonest, furthermore, to Mr. Gibbon, to allow me to infer that his idea was yours.]
Many students fear that if they cite secondary scholarship their teachers will not recognize their own original contribution to the scholarly dialogue in which they are engaged. To this I say, "balderdash!" Particularly when we study ancient history, it is impossible to be creative without also immersing yourself in the scholarship that has preceeded you on a topic. I personally have found that by forcing myself to recognize how a book or article has influenced my thinking and argument on a point, I become more keenly aware of what my original contribution is.
Basically, there are three ways to be creative and original in a research paper. 1) Extend someone else's argument to a logical step further than what he/she has attempted; or to a kind of primary evidence he/she hasn't considered; 2) Notice a relationship between the arguments of two (or more) other scholars. Forge the link between these ideas and show how uniting these ideas gives the cultural historian more tools and/or information than the ideas in isolation provided; 3) Disagree with an argument that another scholar has made, show what he/she got wrong and how your analysis of the evidence makes better sense. Each of these kinds of originality arise from a thorough knowledge of the scholarship that has preceeded you on a point. You can only impress me more by showing how you are using that scholarship in your own argument.
Cite early, often and if you're in doubt about whether or not to cite something, go ahead and cite it.
It is often helpful in an argument to actually quote some of the evidence. Direct quotation in an argument can be a matter of a few words or an extended quote of several lines. When you chose to use a block quote of several lines, remember that this is a very strong rhetorical move (the moral equivalent of shouting "Ha!, I told you I was right!). Therefore, be measured in your use of block quotes. Moreover, be careful that you have selected the most salient quote and use the briefest portion necessary to advance your argument. Papers that have long block quotes every page usually indicate that the author is "padding," or trying to fill up his/her page limit without doing much thinking. Even when you're not padding, a quote that is too long will overwhelm your argument. I should never ask myself, "why am I reading this?" when I read a block quote. Instead, I should be thinking, "damn, he/she is right."
Second, does your use of the evidence reveal that you have thought critically about it? Just because Socrates characterized himself as the "gadfly" of Athens, doesn't mean that he actually was or that the Athenians so perceived him. Just because I. F. Stone says that religion was a pretext in the trial of Socrates, doesn't mean it actually was. Arguments that use evidence more critically get more points. For example, an argument that asserts that Athenian democracy was flawed because it could not tolerate the critique of its failures and pretensions that Socrates provided in his "gadfly" activities (and cited the "gadfly" passage in the Apology) will impress me less than one which asserts that Plato felt that Athenian democracy was flawed....etc.
After you have written your first draft, review each paragraph. Consider every sentence in which you make a factual assertion about the text. Ask yourself if you need a jump cite to sustain your point. If you don't have a cite, go find it. If you can't find one, you've discovered a hole in your argument. Reviev every use you have made of a block quote. Ask yourself a) does the text cited relate only to the point you are trying to make - if it brings in additional matters, cut the quote down; b) ask yourself if the block quote really nails the point you are trying to argue, and whether a cite of a particular phrase or even a jump cite, could make your point as well. As an arbitrary rule, I force myself to question very strongly any page on which I have more than one block quote. Sometimes a paper needs two block quotes on a page. However, you should be sure you have thought about it and decided that you need both before you turn the paper in.
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You should know that I was trained to write by lawyers, not academics. This means I have an immediate, intense and perhaps irrational intolerance for prose which is not clear. I am trying to become more open minded, but for your own sake, I would set clarity of expression as my highest stylistic goal for the papers you write in this course. I consider the following features of your prose when I evaluate writing style:
Grammar and Syntax:
Make sure nouns and verbs agree. Make sure you don't have run on sentences. Make sure you use commas, colons and semicolons appropriately. My experience with Bates students so far leads me to believe that you all understand these basic mechanics of writing, but that sometimes you don't edit your papers to catch these kinds of mistakes (which creep easily into drafts). It is really irritating to read a paper with a mistake you know the student could have and should have caught, but didn't bother to. You don't want your professor irritated when she's grading your papers. You should know that this professor gets hugely irritated by grammar and syntax mistakes. If you make more than one per page (i.e., five total mistakes for a five page paper), you will lose ten total points on your paper (i.e., a paper that otherwise scored 100 points [A+], will receive 90 points [A-].
There are two types of professors. Those who think less of a student who makes diction and spelling mistakes, and those who understand that mistakes happen. I'm in the latter camp. However, all professors take points off for diction and spelling mistakes. Use spell check. Use the find function to check separately uses of homophones like "too, two and to; their, there" etc. While I will not think less of you as a person or scholar for making typos and spelling mistakes, I will think you don't have high enough standards for your writing. Accordingly, if you make more than one typo and/or spelling mistake per page (i.e., five total mistakes for a five page paper), you will lose ten total points on your paper (i.e., a paper that otherwise scored 100 points [A+], will receive 90 points [A-].
I urge students who have learning styles that make management of spelling/typos and/or grammar and syntax difficult to see me early in the semester so I can help you get the credit you deserve on your paper and not get burned by this requirement. There are a million ways to make sure everyone can meet it. But if you need some help, you have to tell me.
By "diction," I mean word choice. You don't have to use ten dollar words to impress me, and if you do use recherche words, make sure you use them appropriately. When you use words that are part of the jargon of the academic discipline in which you are majoring, remember, I'm just a country lawyer who reads a lot of Latin. The use of such technical language can be appropriate, but every time you use a term of art (e.g., deconstruction, post-modernism, gender construct), drop a footnote and explain what it means.
You should also avoid slang when you write papers. For example, the sentence "Cicero is a jerk," while expressing a sentiment shared by many, will cause my red pen to twitch. Why? Because slang is imprecise. Slang words change their nuance and connotation very quickly. Slang which everyone understood when I was in college (e.g., "groovy, far-out") is probably not used much on the Bates campus today. Slang is also very group specific. Bates students probably have a host of slang words and slang usage that I am completely unfamiliar with. Your papers are not the best place to begin my education in the diction of student culture in Lewiston. Slang is also problematic because it tends to be conclusive not descriptive or argumentative. If you write, "Cicero was a jerk," my most likely response will be "Why does he/she think so? What precisely does he/she mean by 'jerk.'" The most effective use of slang in formal writing is rhetorical. You argue your point with clear and ordinary language. "Cicero was pompous, self-promoting, hypocritical and arrogant." Then, you conclude with a marked use of slang. "In every day parlance, he was a 'jerk.'"
A word about levels of diction, personal voice and writing style. The essay, by convention, is a fairly formal style of writing. Sometimes these conventions seem a tad anal-retentive. For example, most folks don't use contractions in papers and essays (i.e., they'd write "do not use contractions"). Why? Well, contractions represent the sound of spoken language. We elide "do not" to "don't," when we talk in conversation. One way of marking the greater formality of essay writing is to refuse to write contractions, which characterize informal, oral communication. A second way of marking this formality is by word choice - don't use slang, for example. While these conventions might seem arbitrary, they do have one value, they prevent your language from getting in the way of your argument. In other words, the reader doesn't spend time wondering what you mean by the assertion that Cicero is a jerk. Instead, the reader spends his/her time deciding whether your argument that Cicero is pompous and arrogant is persuasive.
Finally, you have to decide, in developing your writing style, how to present your "personal voice." At the simplest level, this is a question of using the personal pronoun "I," in your essay. By convention, essays have often eschewed the first person. This is increasingly less the case. Because I was trained to write as a lawyer, I tend not to use "I." (Judges really never cared what "I" thought about the law, they wanted to hear what the law was.) However, there is inherently something fictive about not using "I." After all, you are presenting your arguments and ideas - who's kidding whom? For the purposes of these paper assignments, I don't care whether you write in the first or third person. You might want to experiment in one paper with one voice, and use another in a different paper. Good writers practice writing in a range of different voices and diction levels until they find the style and personal voice that suits their temperament best. You should feel free to experiment with different voices and styles in the writing assignments in this course.
In my personal experience, writing on the word processor (which I do) inevitably leads to a first draft with long and unwieldy sentences. That is why the good Lord invented second drafts. The glory of English prose style is its capacity to make subtle arguments with simple sentences. Many people foolishly think that if they write clearly and directly, their readers will think they are not smart. This is not true. If you write clearly and directly, I will think you are smart and that you are a good writer.
I am not adverse to subordinated clauses and good writing uses lots of them. What drives me batty, however, is a lengthy sentence which, while grammatically correct in a technical sense, is so grammatically complicated that I have to stop and reread it several times to figure out what the author is saying. Here is what I do to correct my own tendency to write long sentences with grammatical structures excessively influenced by all the Cicero I've read.
First, I do a word count on the word processors of every sentence in my draft. I circle the sentences on my hard copy that have more than 20 words. (20 is my own limit and is a bit harsh. You might find a longer limit more appropriate). Second, I review every circled sentence to make sure it is not a run on sentence. Third, I ask myself, is it possible to make the same point by editing the sentence into two sentences. Fourth, I ask myself if the sentence is so lengthy because I really haven't figured out what I'm trying to say. Writing on a word processor can be a lot like having a conversation. You keep talking or typing until you've figure out your point. This is a great way to figure out your point, but you want to spare the reader the benefit of your own tortured logic. That is why the good Lord invented second drafts.
When I think that a sentence is very long because it's masking fuzziness in my own thinking, I get out a pen and paper and say to myself "What are you trying to say? Just say it!" Then I write down what comes to mind. It's usually much clearer than what I started with. Sometimes this technique doesn't work. Then I get out the heavy guns. I ask myself what I would say if I were trying to explain my point to my favorite Aunt (Aunt Margaret), who is quite intelligent, but not an academic. I write that down. Then I edit that. Decide who your "Aunt Margaret" is and keep this editing device in your back pocket for really recalcitrant sentences.
When you review your paragraphs, you should also consider the rhetorical device of "variatio," or variation. A good paragraph will have sentences of different lengths which use different grammatical structures. When you are editing your first draft, be sure to check if you've used sentences of a variety of lengths. For some reason, reading a paragraph in which every sentence is of a similar length and similar grammatical structure, is both difficult and boring. If you find you've written such a paragraph, edit your sentences, expanding or cutting where necessary.
For example, a paragraph which reads: "More and Wolsey were rivals. They came from similar social backgrounds. They pursued similar public careers. They each became Chancellor of England. They each died in social and political disgrace," argues its point quite well but is the reading equivalent of water torture. Conversely, the paragraph which reads, "Rivals throughout their lives, More and Wolsey came from similar social backgrounds. Each man pursued a career in public life. Each achieved the signal honor of the office of Chancellor. Ironically, or tragically, despite their extraordinary successes, each man died in social and political disgrace," is easier to read because of the variation in sentence length and structure.
A final thing to consider when you review the sentences in your paragraphs: Your verbs. First, avoid the passive voice. Occasionally, the passive construction is necessary and you shouldn't be afraid to use it when necessity demands. However, most of the time, people who use the passive voice to excess are argumentative wimps. They are afraid to write, "I think St. Perpetua was crazy to willingly undergo public torture for the sake of her beliefs." Instead, they write, "there is much to be said for the observation that Perpetua suffered from some form of mental illness." This is wimpy writing and, what is worse, potentially unclear writing. The reader is forced to ask, "well there's much to be said for it, but is the author saying it?" Use the active voice as much as possible. [I am a fanatic on this point. Don't risk my wrath.]
Second, use strong verbs rather than strong modifiers. Modifiers, especially emphatic ones, are often a sign that the verb you have chosen isn't carrying its argumentative weight in your sentence. "Clearly, St. Perpetua was completely crazy...." raises the immediate question, "clear to whom?" Alternatively, a sentence that reads "Perpetua's willingness to undergo public torture demonstrates that she suffered from some form of mental illness," is unambiguous. You think that she was nuts because she was willing to suffer public torture. I might not agree with you, but I have no doubt as to what you're arguing, or why you're arguing it.
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There are two types of writers: those who write a detailed outline (with all the cites and quotes they will use) first, and then write their papers; and those who sit down, power up the computer and start jamming. I tend to fall in the former camp, but know and respect many people who fall into the latter camp. In my experience, people like myself find the job of editing and rewriting fairly easy because they've spent so much time organizing their thoughts before they start writing. The "jammers" have to spend more time on editing and rewriting, because they usually only figure out what their argument is when they get to the end of the first draft. Good writers in either camp tend to spend the same amount of time on their work, and just allocate where they spend the time differently. Note, however, that good writers of both camps EDIT AND REWRITE.
Let me share with you two articles of personal faith. 1) There has never been a second draft that was not better than the first. 2) There has never been a third draft that was not better than the second. (I also believe this about fourth drafts, but am willing to concede that by this point I am bordering on the fanatical). You cannot write a good essay unless you EDIT AND REWRITE. So, get your first draft done at least several days before the paper is due. Put it away and don't think about it at least for one day. Then, take it out, reread it, and EDIT AND REWRITE.
Let me share with you a little known fact about paper writing. Editing and rewriting tend to be much more efficient if you have someone else read your drafts. This is not cheating. This is good sense. Moreover, you will find that if you do your friends the favor of reading their drafts, you will learn more about writing yourself. It is easier to see common mistakes in someone else's work than your own. Your will also find that if you swallow your pride and ask a friend or roommate to read your drafts he/she will a) spot typos much more easily than you can; and b) will find the points in your argument that are not clear. The hardest part of editing is getting some intellectual distance from your argument and writing. By the time you've finished your first draft, you've thought through your argument. Having done that, it is often harder to see the spots where your writing doesn't clearly explicate your argument. A second reader, who hasn't had the benefit of slogging through the work of the first draft, tends to find these patches of writing with great, if discomforting ease. Let your friends, classmates and roommates find these spots before I do.
I would also like to urge you to use the Writing Workshop for the papers in this course. In my experience, students who had worked with the Writing Workshop on their papers have done very well (and consistently better than those who have not). Make an appointment with the Workshop early in the semester. Bring them the paper assignment and set up a schedule with them to talk about outlines and drafts. While they won't correct your typos, the folks at the Writing Workshop are very skilled in helping you recognize flaws in a) the analytical and argumentative content of your paper; and b) your writing style.
Give a copy of your second draft to another friend. Wait a day, and then repeat steps 3.3 - 3.9 above.
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