The Core faculty is in broad agreement about the relative weight of content and mechanics in the grading of essay assignments. Students should be aware that successful papers demonstrate equal control of both aspects of writing; for instance, a paper whose argument is specific, well supported, and well organized will, nevertheless, earn no higher than a D+ if it also reveals significant weaknesses in matters of grammatical and mechanical correctness.
Likewise, a paper that is mechanically and grammatically correct will earn no higher than a D+ if it reveals significant weaknesses in its argument or its control of the subject matter. In other words, the faculty agrees that sophistication of writing and thinking are bound up with one another and that to exercise one weakly is to hobble the other.
An A paper should demonstrate a level of sophistication and proficiency in structure, content and mechanics well beyond that of the average student. It should be marked not by simple comprehension of the subject matter, but by the ability to penetrate, analyze, and synthesize the material in order to arrive at new and deeper levels of understanding and insight. Moreover, such a paper is not merely grammatically correct, but its vocabulary, its sentence structure, and its paragraphing are marked by a complexity and appropriateness commensurate with the professor's highest expectations for thinking and writing at that particular course level.
A B paper demonstrates good control of structure, content and mechanics. It surpasses the average paper in its attempt to move beyond an obvious, commonplace, or conventional response to an assignment; such a paper, then, reveals insight and imagination grounded in and informed by a consistent and specific use of the assignment's source material. The writing of this paper will be careful, controlled, and, essentially, error free. The more successfully the student establishes and supports a compelling and complex argument, the more sophisticatedly he or she conveys it, in all components of writing, the closer he or she will have come to writing an A paper.
A C paper demonstrates, overall, satisfactory control of structure, content and mechanics. Students should, however, keep in mind that the expectations for assignments at the college level are, of course, higher than those at the secondary level, that a paper that might earn an A or B in a high school course will most likely earn a C in a college course. This grade of C reflects competence in the handling and organizing of an argument and in the demonstrated understanding and use of primary and secondary materials. Such a paper will be, for the most part, free of grammatical and mechanical errors.
D or F papers reveal fundamental weaknesses in structure, content and/or mechanics. The essay may demonstrate misunderstanding of the assignment or a failure to grasp relevant concepts; it may lack appropriate textual support or operate at such a level of generality as to be meaningless; it may proceed without logical or coherent development. The essay also may be marked by chronic errors in grammatical and mechanical correctness. The professor, then, will distinguish between a student's occasional inattentiveness and his or her apparent failure to comprehend a grammatical principle.
The faculty in the Core Curriculum program uses Andrea A. Lunsford’s The St. Martin's Handbook (6th Ed.) as a guide to successful writing and scholarly practices in core courses. Some instructors may, however, recommend writing procedures that differ from those in the handbook. Students are advised to consult with their instructors about such procedures.