NLC English Department Literary Studies Paper Rubric


Excellent (18-20 points)

Proficient (16-17 points)

Satisfactory (14-15 points)

Unsatisfactory ( 12-13 points)

Deficient (0-12 points)


Engaging opening that introduces the paper’s topic, a problem, research question, purpose, and method for writing; the thesis is an easily identifiable, well- phrased argument that assesses literature and addresses a specific idea to be explored and argued; the thesis reflects sound critical, interpretive, and analytical thinking; title and author of work are appropriately identified.

Generally engaging opening; areas to be strengthened may include presentation of general topic, development of transition between general opening and specific thesis statement; thesis statement is phrased as an argument but may be strengthened through clarification of the main idea being offered and purpose.

Opening is functional but too brief and/or simplistic; topic is apparent but needs to be developed to engage the reader; weak sense of purpose and claim; paragraph topics are vague or disconnected from the thesis; thesis may be too general, vague, or imprecisely presented; thesis may not directly address the prompt.

Opening is ineffective, poorly organized, and underdeveloped; thesis statement may summarize plot points rather than present argument about text or may be missing; thesis may not address the prompt or a viable topic; author and/or title of text may not be referenced properly.

Fails to fulfill the requirements of the assignment.


Each paragraph clearly connects to the thesis and offers identifiable, well-phrased ideas to be fully argued in each paragraph; concrete details are well-chosen and incorporated in the body paragraphs; paragraphs are well- organized to create a coherent, carefully developed and supported argument; transitions between ideas are logical and each idea builds on the preceding.

Each paragraph generally connects to the thesis but one or more main ideas may need to be clarified; concrete details are generally well-chosen though some may be irrelevant or insufficient as evidence to effectively support the thesis and/or paragraph; paragraphs are generally well-organized, although some transitions may be awkward; focus and control of argument may need improvement because the point of a paragraph may not always be clear.

Supporting ideas within body paragraphs are present but weak in one or more following areas: main idea not discernible, a fact about the text is summarized, and/or unclear connections to thesis exist. Concrete details are present but weak because they provide insufficient evidence to support the body paragraph and/or lack insightful inference. Lack of coherent organization of ideas within paragraphs; abrupt transitions that impede flow.

Topic sentences absent or consistently lack focused ideas, either offering general, irrelevant comments or stating facts about the text; there is no discernible argument or point guiding the paper; concrete details are absent or ineffective/ insufficient; consistent lack of coherent organization of ideas within paragraphs and from one paragraph to the next; points of paragraphs are unclear.

Fails to fulfill the requirements of the assignment.

Literary Interpretation

Writing demonstrates analysis, critique, and interpretative functions; inferences are well developed so that all claims and points made are well-supported and persuasive; focuses on both thematic and stylistic elements of examined literature; demonstrates writer’s ability to interpret the function of literary devices in the service of thematic meaning; appropriate balance of quotes to writer’s commentary; writer is clearly engaged with and moved by his/her thinking process and philosophy.

Writing generally reflects a critical, analytical, and interpretative understanding of the text but is uneven or vague; inferences demonstrate interpretive ability but could be developed further to better explain significance of detail and support thesis; some claims may be vague, generalized, or lacking in support; analysis could be stronger through focus on stylistic elements that create thematic meaning; some imbalance of quotes and writer’s analysis.

Writing demonstrates basic comprehension, but not a critical, analytical, or interpretive understanding, as reflected by the following: interpretive analysis inconsistent or unsubstantiated; frequent summary of plot; writer restates the content of cited sources rather than draws significant inferences about sub-textual meaning; little or no analysis of how stylistic elements of the text create meaning. Writing weakened by frequent generalizations, unsupported claims, assumptions, vague statements.

Writing demonstrates some awareness of literary details but not a critical or analytical understanding of the text; points made are vague and unsubstantiated; plot summary is present; no literary interpretation present.

Fails to fulfill the requirements of the assignment.

Language & Style

Paper reflects an argumentative mode of writing appropriate for the topic; it is academic in tone; writer’s voice is evident, confident, and sophisticated; vocabulary and phrasing are academically appropriate, persuasive, and sophisticated without being pretentious.

Writing is generally academic in tone; writer’s voice may not be consistently persuasive but is discernible; writing demonstrates an awareness of the purpose to persuade; vocabulary in some places may be simplistic or ineffective.

Writing tends to be mechanical in tone; writer’s voice is not discernible in the paper; writing demonstrates inconsistent awareness of the purpose to persuade; vocabulary tends to be simplistic, marked by instances of informal or imprecise diction.

Writing is mechanical in tone; writer’s voice is not discernible; writing demonstrates no awareness of the purpose to persuade; vocabulary is simplistic and/or inappropriate.

Fails to fulfill the requirements of the assignment.

Grammar & Mechanics

Paper includes sentence variety; effective syntax and grammar; demonstrates a mastery of writing conventions and serves the author’s purpose; consistent adherence to MLA guidelines; accurate Works Cited page; absence of grammar, syntax, and punctuation errors.

Paper’s sentences generally effective but may lack appropriate variety (some repeated opening words and structure); syntax and grammar may be awkward in places (but not distracting); a few grammar and mechanical errors (but not distracting); consistent adherence to MLA guidelines; accurate Works Cited page.

Essay sentences lack variety (frequently repeated opening words and sentence structure); awkward syntax and grammar confuse writer’s point and distract reader; misspellings, contractions, fragments, referring to “you” which diminishes the academic nature of the writing; inconsistent adherence to MLA guidelines (but does not compromise integrity of essay); Works Cited page may contain inaccuracies (but does not compromise the integrity of essay).

Frequent syntax, grammar, and misspelling errors that distract the reader; lack of adherence to MLA guidelines which undermines the integrity of paper; inaccurate Works Cited page compromises integrity of essay.

No adherence to MLA guidelines (missing citations, lack of proper format); missing Works Cited page; paper is incomprehensible.