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Characteristics Of Good Academic Essay

Essay Characteristics - an Example Guideline for Marking

Characteristics of an "A" Paper:

Excellent, with perhaps, one forgivable flaw.

  • Challenging thesis and clearly developed.
  • References used intelligently in argument.
  • Correct sentence/ grammatical structure.
  • Sophisticated writing style.
  • Appropriate documentation.
  • Subtlety and complexity in approach to subject.
  • Independence of thought.

Characteristics of a "B" Paper:

Good overall (i.e., does many things right).

  • Some minor errors in factual content OR
  • Some errors in terminology or general writing skills OR
  • Some lapses in clarity (i.e., vagueness, incompleteness, flaws in structure).

Characteristics of a "C" Paper:

Generally correct, with more than a few flaws.

  • Inconsistent or superficial.
  • Weakness in line of argument.
  • Dull thesis.
  • Mechanical approach to argument.
  • Lack or support.
  • Problems with basic grammar or matters of style.
  • Simplicity of thought, structure, or expression.

Characteristics of a "D" or Failing Paper

  •     Does not make its case.
  • Severe difficulties in logical structure or mechanics of expression.
  • Illogical, unsupported thinking without a line or argument.
  • Inadequate thinking about the topic.
  • Incoherent writing.

Rubrics and Marking Sheets

If you expect to be a TA an essay course it is worth your while to develop a thorough grading rubric. Although this activity can be time consuming it will save you time in the long run.

A rubric based marking sheet is a quick way to give detailed feedback in less time. It also provides quantifiable information for specific characteristics that are normally subjective and challenged by students. The sample rubric shown below was used in a third-year required course the the improvement of academic writing was a secondary course objective. The appropriate descriptor for each category would be circled and a numeric grade given for the entire paper. Rubrics should be provided to students before they begin work on an assignment or essay.


Depth/20Surface, book-report, no depth.Lacking depth in one or two areas.Appropriate for a 3rd year course.4th year or graduate level.
Clarity of ideas/15Confused interpretation of most points, or several major ideas.Confused interpretation of some minor points.At expected levels.Beyond expected levels.
Adequate sources/15Uses & and cites less than six sourcesUses & cites at least 6 sources.Minimum of 10 sources used & cited.Uses & cites more than 10 sources, or uses sources of uncommon quality.

Organization and mechanics

APA citation/10Frequent or severe errors in APA citation practices.
Minor errors in APA citation practices.All sources referenced correctly.Sources used to strengthen argument, nested referencing.
APA style/5Inattention to fundamentals of APA style.Minor errors in APA style.Reflects understanding of APA style.Utilizes APA style
conventions not addressed in class (charts, tables, diagrams, appendices, etc.).
Themes/20No thematic organization.  
Discusses 2 or 3 main themes, but uses sources sequentially
within each theme.
Integrates sources to discuss 2 or 3 themes which are clearly related.Integrates sources to
discuss one main theme,
perhaps with explicit
Correct English usage/15Frequent or severeerrors in grammar, sentence structure, or word usage.Minor errors in grammar, sentence structure, or word usage.

Appropriate for 3rd year course.


Exceptional fluency and language capacity supports communicative purpose.


This post is meant to share the qualities of good writing with readers, but it also begs an important question i.e. what is good writing in the first place? As simple as this question sounds, it is really not easy to answer this question. There are several traits that combine together to constitute a piece of good writing, and these traits may greatly vary depending on the writer, the reader, and the context.

For example, the writer’s tone for an academic research paper should be entirely different from the tone for a blog post. Similarly, a writer needs to understand qualities of good writing to be much more formal for business writing purposes than for, let’s say, an online review.

While there are no hard and fast qualities of good writing on the basis of which a piece of work can be regarded as good, average, or bad; there do exist several writing traits that are generally considered to be the core ingredients of good writing. These traits apply to all forms and genres of writing, and are universally regarded as ‘best practices’.

So whether you’re writing an essay, a short story, a blog post, or even a letter to a friend or a college application; here are some qualities that can make your writings really stand out.


Good writing usually aligns with the saying ‘the simple, the better’. Many people think that good writing means using flowery language and uncommon words and expressions; however, that is not true at all. A good composition will always express things in the most direct and simple way. In case of languages like English, the same idea can be expressed in multiple different ways and as a good writer; you should always aim for the simplest way to express your ideas.


If you’re writing about something, it is very likely you have much to say about it. For your writing to be considered as good, you are required to state your ideas in a meaningful and logical manner so that they seem connected. This trait is referred to as the unity or flow of your text. The flow of a good piece of writing is a smooth sail, rather than a road full of bumps.


Connecting to the previous trait, i.e. unity, another important quality for good writing is focus. Not only is focus important for your overall writing, it is absolutely crucial to maintain a sense of flow and unity in your writing.

A good piece of writing does not bombard its readers with unnecessary information and ideas, and is entirely focused on the central idea/plot of the writing. It makes sure that the readers follows along with ease; and does not have to reread a portion or get lost in the details.


A good piece of writing always incorporates a sense of authority, ensuring the reader the writer knows exactly what he’s talking about. A composition is good if the writer seems to be well-informed and credible about the subject that he’s discussing. On the other hand, presenting weak or wrong information can not only make your writing look bad, but can also have adverse effects on your reputation as a writer.


It is needless to say that you need good grammar skills in order to craft a good piece of writing. As a writer, you are supposed to follow the grammatical rules of Standard English precisely. Grammatical mistakes, spelling errors, and a weak proofreading are very likely to have a negative impact on your readers. Pay due attention to the grammatical correctness of your text.


As a writer, you are supposed to know your way with words. English happens to be one of the languages where there are multiple words for the same idea. A good piece of writing will always incorporate the most suitable and accurate words. Good word choice greatly contributes to the clarity and readability of your text.


This is an important quality that distinguishes good writing from bad writing. To be concise means to avoid unnecessary words and fillers because they distract your readers. Sometimes people may deliberately use unnecessary words.

For example, a student may try to increase the word count on their assignment by using unnecessarily long expressions, or someone may use them to seem more stylish with their writing. This is a bad writing practice and should avoid. You should never write ‘due to the fact that’ when you can simply write ‘because’.


Your writing style is what makes your writing unique and sets it apart from all the other writers out there. Your writing style plays a great role in determining whether your writing is good or bad. Writing style basically means the way that you present your text to the reader; your word choice, voice, and fluency all contribute to your writing style. There are no precise rules to mark a writing style as good or bad; however, as a general guideline, a good writing style is always in line with the writer’s opinion, the reader’s’ expectations, and the topic’s context.


All writing is not the same and there are different forms of writing to which the writer needs to adapt his style and content. A good academic writer is not necessarily a good short story writer; similarly, someone great at blog writing might not do well with technical writing.


All these different forms of writing have a varying scope and requirements. In order to produce good writing, it is your job to understand these varying requirements and craft your writing in accordance with the form you’re writing for.

Last but not the least, an important characteristic of good writing is that its reader oriented. It is important to know your audience and their needs and expectations from your writing. Whether your writing is to share an opinion, to educate your readers, or to provoke a thought; understanding your audience can greatly aid you in crafting a good composition.


To conclude, although there are no hard and fast rules that determine how good a piece of writing is; the above guidelines are generally accepted to be the cornerstones of good writing. Keeping these guidelines in mind and incorporating them into your writing will help you in improving the quality of your writing and have a profound effect on the readers.

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