Evaluating a Research Essay

As you read the sample essay and make notes, keep the following questions in mind. You should be able to provide cogent answers to your group for each one.

1. Research question

  • Is the question the paper asks interesting? Is the topic itself new, or does the question provide a new and original take on a familiar topic?
  • Is the question answerable? Does the answer provided in the paper teach the author (and you) something you didn’t know, and that shapes or changes your perspective on the topic?

2. Research

  • How many sources does the author cite in the paper?
  • Does the paper have both a Works Cited and a Works Consulted list, and is the distinction between these clear?
  • What kind of sources does the author use? A wide variety of sources isn’t always necessary, depending on the topic, but the type and range of sources should be appropriate to the topic.

3. Engagement with sources

  • Is each source introduced into the paper in a way that makes its relevance to the research question(s) clear?
  • Are the author’s ideas and the ideas and information in the source material in dialogue with one another? A research paper should not just be a string of quotes or paraphrases without adequate explanation and engagement. Find at least one example of a citation in which the relevance of and the author’s engagement with the source material is clear.
  • Is all the supporting information adequately cited? Remember that not just quotes and paraphrases but information, terms, and even ideas from source material need to be credited appropriately.
  • Does the author follow MLA style for both in-text citations and the Works Cited and Works Consulted lists?

4. Organization

  • Are the topic and question introduced in a way that is clear and grabs your interest?
  • Does the introduction make it clear what you can expect from this paper?
  • Are all supporting points arranged in a clear and logical sequence? Another way of asking this is to ask, do you always know why you are reading what you are reading?

5. Style

  • Is the sentence structure clear and effective? Are the sentences grammatical and well structured? Give an example of a particularly clear, well-structured sentence. If you don’t think the writing is clear, give an example of a poor sentence.

If your answer to each of these questions is a resounding yes, you probably are looking at an A paper. If you are answering mostly yes, especially to the key elements like research, style, and structure, but you are identifying some weaknesses or errors, the paper might be more in the B range. If the strengths and weaknesses more or less balance each other out, the paper might be a C. Reserve grades of D or below for papers with major problems of research, structure, and style.