How Prof. Stephens grades a thesis defense paper
A thesis defense paper is evaluated by each of five different categories. Each category counts for a maximum of twenty (20) points. If a student does an average job for a particular category, then 15 points, 75%, would be equivalent to a C+ for that category. 17 points, 85%, would be a B+. 18 points, 90%, would be a low A, and so on. If a paper receives twenty (20) points in all five categories, then it gets one hundred (100) points total (A+), though this is virtually unachievable since it requires perfection in every category.
Category One: originality and creativity. Is the paper topic addressed in an original way? Is the thesis both philosophically interesting and suitably controversial? Is the thesis original? Is the argument for this thesis creative? Is the counterargument creative?
Categories Two and Three: clarity, concision, coherence.
Clarity. Are the sentences clear? Are all the sentences grammatical? Are there any syntax errors? (The most common syntax error is using a singular subject with a plural relative pronoun, e.g. “When a person changes their mind, they are indecisive.”) Are words spelled correctly? Are words used correctly? Is the punctuation in all sentences correct? Do any sentences contain comma splices or other improper punctuation? (The most common punctuation error is the improper use of the apostrophe.) Are any words capitalized that ought not to be? Are any words uncapitalized that ought to be capitalized?
Concision. Are your sentences concise and to the point? Is there any verbal fat that could have been excised from your sentences? Do you link together in one long sentence what would have been more elegant as two or more separate sentences? Is your use of words economical or long-winded?
Coherence. Is there a clear and explicit thesis stated in the introductory paragraph? Do the ideas in the paper hang together or are they disjointed? Is each paragraph one logical unit expressing one main idea? Is the overall structure of the paper easily intelligible? Are references handled properly? Are all the citations complete and accurate? Are citations lacking where they are needed? Is there a “Works Cited” page with all the necessary bibliographic information? Are footnotes or end notes handled properly?
Prof. Stephens tends to group the trio of clarity, concision, and coherence into a twenty (20) point duo and a twenty (20) point solo, depending on the emphasis he wishes to call to the attention of the student writer. Thus, three permutations are possible:
clarity + concision = 20 pts. & coherence = 20
clarity = 20 pts. & concision + coherence = 20 pts.
clarity + coherence = 20 pts. & concision = 20 pts.
Category Four: rigor and burden of proof. Is the argument for the thesis cogent? Are the premises (assumptions) plausible? Are the inferences warranted? Do you adequately shoulder the burden of proof in providing substantiation for controversial claims? Do you present concrete evidence in support of your views? Do you treat your topic with intellectual honesty? Do you overstate your case? Is the thesis suitably controversial? Is the scope of paper topic too broad or too narrow?
Category Five: evenhandedness, counterarguments, and principle of charity: Are you fair and charitable in interpreting views with which you disagree? Do you accurately characterize the positions of your critic? Do you raise intelligent objections to your thesis? Do you discuss intelligent criticisms of your arguments? Do you present any counterarguments to your position? Do you respond in an evenhanded way to such counterarguments?
Sometimes Prof. Stephens urges a student to rewrite her paper. Sometimes he requires it. A student may always request to do a rewrite. The problem with 98% of all rewritten papers is that students tend to correct only some, not all, of the mistakes flagged by Prof. Stephens in the first draft, and students make only the most superficial revisions to their paper. In other words, students fail to substantively improve their paper in their rewrites. So, if you are to attempt a rewrite, you must work hard to improve every single sentence and every single paragraph of your paper. You must aggressively delete all weak sentences and entire flabby paragraphs and compose new sentences and new paragraphs. Most importantly, you must overhaul your arguments and counterarguments BIG TIME. If a rewrite is permitted, Prof. Stephens will grade the rewrite in the normal way and average the score of the rewrite with the score of the original version to determine the final score for the paper assignment. For example, if Jane gets a 72 on the first version of the paper and an 86 on the rewrite, she receives a 79 for that paper assignment.
Copyright © 2012 William O. Stephens