“D” Essays and Below
These are some of the general tendencies that mark inferior writing:
- A tendency to exploit the obvious, either because of lack of understanding, failure to grapple with the topic, or, in many instances, lack of interest. The substance varies from superficial to barren.
- A tendency to wander aimlessly because of a lack of overall conception, or, in some instances, to have a semblance of form without the development that makes the part a whole.
- A tendency to play it safe with words, using ones the writer can spell or ones the writer ordinarily speaks. Such inclinations place obvious limits on the variety and reader-interest of the essay.
- An inability to make careful distinctions between periods, commas and semicolons, although some “D” writers can write correct sentences if they keep their syntactical structure simple. The incidence of error, however, is usually high.
- Either a tendency to write highly convoluted sentences, resembling near-random thought-association or stream-of-consciousness prose, or a tendency to play it safe by avoiding the stylistic elements that invite error.
CONTENT: The writing may be padded and repetitious, and the tendency to keep thought on a high level of generality without sufficient reference to detail or specific supporting illustrations causes the prose to seem thin. There is little indication of the writer’s intellectual involvement with the subject. Summary will predominate over analysis. The surest mark of a “C” essay is the preponderance of self-evident statements—all true, often clearly phrased, but predictable and often trivial.
FORM: Most “C” writers will reveal that they are aware of organization, but to them form is formulaic. They have real difficulty envisioning form as setting a direction for thought, or as a way to set expectations for the reader.
DICTION: “C” writing depends on the cliché. Lapses into jargon, and/or rapid shifts between the highly formal and the markedly colloquial, are common. The diction of the “C” essay is best explained as having a lack of range. The writing is undistinguished because the writer has limited verbal resources with which to work.
MECHANICS AND STYLE: “C” writing may be perfectly correct, but often lacks a sense of ease with language—at best, perfunctory and uninspiring.
“C” QUALITY WRITING USUALLY DEMONSTRATES:
- A tendency to depend on the self-evident.
- A tendency either to make organization obvious or to write without a plan.
- A limitation in the range of words, and thus a distinct dependence on the clichés and colloquialisms most available.
- An ability to use mechanics correctly or incorrectly in proportion to the plainness or complexity of the style.
- A generalized unawareness of the choices that affect style and thus an inability to generate or control the effects a more ambitious writer may seek.
CONTENT: The material of the “B” essay shows signs of independent thought and gives evidence of the writer’s active engagement with the topic. Something illuminating is said, in the sense that an insight is presented in such a way that the reader sees anew.
FORM: “B” writers show a clear sense of order. They are conscious of planning and crafting their material to relate it to the central point or thesis being presented. Their formal control should also show evidence of transitions and thematic and verbal echoes that hold the thoughts together.
DICTION: “B” writers, like “A” writers, have developed a vocabulary that allows them choices, and a sense of linguistic variety and freedom. They are able to select the “right” word or turn of phrase from a wide range of possibilities.
MECHANICS: “B” writers turn in clean, correct essays. Few errors in the prose interfere with the writer’s thoughts. Control of grammar is sure.
STYLE: “B” writers are aware of rhetorical strategies and can often call on devices such as parallelism, repetition, contrast and the rhetorical question with effect. Mature use of subordination permits concise, varied prose. The “B” essay has both distinguishable strengths and flaws, but the flaws are not so numerous or serious as to throw doubt upon the writer’s proficiency. The writer is in control, investing the essay with purpose, direction and strategy.
“B” QUALITY WRITING USUALLY DEMONSTRATES:
- An ability to absorb ideas and experience and interpret them in a given context.
- The capacity to develop an idea with a clear sense of order.
- An ability to use words precisely.
- An ability to use mechanics as an integral part of the meaning and effect of prose.
- The capacity to make stylistic choices, and to consider alternate ways of expression.
The clearest difference between the “B” writer and the “A” writer is that the “A” writer often brings intellectual and imaginative resources to the task of writing in order to transform both material and language in some unusual way.
“A” writing is usually distinguished by:
- CONTENT: The ability to avoid the pedestrian, the stilted and the obvious, and to present insights both personal and illuminating.
- FORM: The ability to develop complicated ideas flexibly and fluently, yet with control and purpose.
- DICTION: A special concern for the right word; individuality and aptness of diction; absence of cliché and jargon; concern with subtleties of expression as well as with precise communication.
- MECHANICS: An ability to use punctuation rhetorically, for effect as well as clarity.
- STYLE: The desire and willingness to be inventive with structure and phrasing in order to craft an identifiable style; fluency; the ability to create effects that not only emphasize meaning but evoke reaction, and might even change opinion.
Perhaps the most marked characteristic of the “A” writer is the inability to suppress the personal voice—the sense of a lively intelligence behind the page—whether such emerges through viewpoint, metaphor, vocabulary or any other quality that announces the writer’s individuality. “A” writers have something worthwhile to say, and say it. They read perceptively, support their insights with judiciously selected evidence, and often respond by linking ideas with other ideas, books with other books. What they see is unexpected, what they write is fresh.