Students often wonder what makes an A paper so much better than a B+ paper. The puzzlement is understandable: an acceptable B+ paper, at least by my grading criteria, does everything or almost everything that the topic asks it to do. What else is there supposed to be?

The answer is straightforward in principle. Here is how I define the criteria for an A/A- paper:

The paper shows that the writer has thought about the assignment and developed his or her own ideas about it, instead of just offering minimal responses to the different components of the assignment. Interpretations of theories are sophisticated and supported with textual evidence; more than one source is considered. Writing is between good and brilliant: the organization of the paper is clear, prose is good and grammar flawless.

However, when you are sitting there with your B+ paper in your hand, you can still fail to see what exactly that means. So let's do show, instead of tell. This page offers examples of very good papers. Examples 1 and 2 are from a course on American political thought taught at the University of Washington in fall 2000; examples 3 and 4 are from a 20th-century political thought course at the University of Michigan; example 5 is from an introduction to political theory course at the University of Michigan. Examples 1, 2 and 5 are excerpted and commented; 3 and 4 are in their entirety, without comments.

All student work is presented here anonymously, but the students continue to own the copyright to their work. All rights are reserved.

New material added December 2, 2002.