The 3000-level composition courses emphasize the aim, audience, and persona of the writer. Teachers of 3000-level composition courses assume that students have mastered basic sentence and paragraph structure and the conventions of punctuation, grammar, and spelling.

The teachers in 3000-level composition courses should mark student papers so that the students can become aware of problems in their writing. Problems in a written work usually fall into one of four categories of problems: (1) organization, (2) development, (3) style, and (4) mechanics. Conversely, a well-written work is (1) organized so that the readers can follow it without difficulty, (2) developed in detail, (3) clearly written in a style appropriate for the purpose and audience, and (4) free of mechanical problems. Each of these four aims for well written papers can be explained briefly here.

(1) Organization refers to the ordering of the material and the connections provided to link the various parts to one another. Generally speaking, papers should begin with an introductory paragraph and end with a concluding paragraph. The introductory paragraph should usually offer general remarks about the subject to gain the readers' interest and then announce the purpose of the paper or the thesis. The concluding paragraph should wrap up the presentation and signal that the author is drawing the paper to a close. This may be done by reiterating key points and/or calling for action. The paragraphs in between the introductory paragraph and the concluding paragraph are called the body of the paper. The student authors need to figure out which points should come in what order in the body of the paper. For example, background information may come before a detailed development of major claims, and definitions of key terms may come before explanations involving those key terms. The student authors should provide the readers with explicit statements about why the points in the paper are being presented and about the connection between points. In a well organized paper the readers should not need to ask, "How does this point fit in here?" A well organized paper should:

A. Have a carefully limited subject.

B. Have a clearly stated, unifying thesis.

C. Follow the overall strategy assigned by the instructor. If none was specified, the strategy adopted must be logically derived from the thesis and followed consistently throughout.

D. Have a consistent tone and point of view.

E. Give emphasis to ideas in keeping with their importance to the thesis.

F. Be comprised of paragraphs, each unified around a lead sentence and free of material irrelevant to it.

G. Link sentences and paragraphs with appropriate transitions.

(2) Development refers to the process of making general statements and then explaining them in particular detail. The student authors must fulfill the rhetorical commitments made in the paper. When authors fail to develop their ideas, readers need to ask questions like these: "What do you mean by this statement? Would you give me an example of this?" Often problems with clarity arise from a lack of development of the ideas involved. Similarly, difficulties in logic often arise from a lack of development. To develop papers well authors need to figure out what the readers need to know to follow the paper without having to ask a lot of questions about what the author wishes to say.

A. The papers must support all claims and generalizations with specific evidence such as facts, examples, or the judgment of authorities.

B. Evidence must be a verifiable, ample, and suited to the writer's audience and purpose.

In addition, the student papers should complete the assignment as explained by the teacher. Incomplete papers and papers that make inaccurate statements are not acceptable.

(3) Style refers to matters of diction and sentence composition. Style may vary depending on the purpose of the piece of writing and the audience. Whether the style is formal or informal, the writer must do the following things:

A. Use exact, precise words.

B. Use active rather than passive constructions as much as possible.

C. Employ concrete, vivid language, including active verbs.

D. Use vocabulary appropriate to purpose, subject, and audience.

E. Avoid cliches.

F. Avoid jargon or, when it's needed, define it.

G. Avoid wordiness and needless repetition.

H. Use a consistent point of view (e.g., consistent person, voice, and mood).

In addition, the writer should vary the types of sentences used and the length of sentences. The paper should be "lard free," to use Richard Lanham's expression, and it should not be written in what Lanham calls the bureaucratic style but in plain English (cf.  Revising Prose ). Students may wish to use computer text editors.

(4) Mechanical problems include problems in spelling, punctuation, and grammar. The students are to follow the selected handbook in determining matters of punctuation and grammar. The students are to consult dictionaries concerning spelling and use the spelling check program on the computer. Student papers should conform to the standard conventions of spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

Student papers should also be free of the following graphemic problems:

A. Missing, inappropriate, or unnecessary punctuation, including . , ; : ? " '

B. Missing, inappropriate, or unnecessary capitalization.

In addition, student papers must be free of following major sentence faults:

A. Inappropriate fragments

B. Run-on sentences, comma splices, fused sentences

C. Dangling and misplaced modifiers

D. Inappropriate verb forms and tenses

E. Nonagreement of subject and verb, pronoun and antecedent

F. Nonagreement of cases

G. Faulty parallelism

To sum up, student papers in 3000-level composition courses should be organized well, developed in detail, written clearly, and free of mechanical errors. Obviously the papers should also be accurate and complete the assignment and be written intelligently. Problems with organization, development, style, and mechanics will be considered in determining grades on papers.

Teachers will give grades in the A range only to papers free of significant problems in organization, development, style, and mechanics. A student paper with a significant problem in ANY one of these four areas of concern should not receive a grade above B+.

A teacher may return a paper to a student to rewrite to eliminate excessive mechanical or other problems before the teacher will assign a grade to the paper.

[SPC:  Students who need help with grammar or punctuation used to be able to seek help in the Writing Center, but budget cuts eliminated it. Consult the Achievement Center, the Tutoring Center, or me to see what comparable resources are available.]


Author SPC: These standards were written by Professor Tom Farrell of the UMD Composition Department.  They were originally written sometime around 1995 and were revised by Prof. Farrell in 2005. You should buy (or keep) the writer's handbook used in your composition classes. Personally, I like the St. Martin's Handbook.

Page URL:
Author:  Stephen Chilton [email]  |  Last Modified:  2005-11-05
Honor Roll  |  UMD  |  Pol Sci Department

The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.
Copyright © 2005 Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved.