When we assess the biographical papers, we stress how well they have fulfilled the guidelines on this class web site. In general terms, we are focusing on four goals: (1) does the paper show a good grasp of course materials, (2) does the paper thoughtfully analyze gender's significance in the author's biography, (3) does the paper consider the causal questions of "how?" and "why?" consistently and effectively, and (4) is the paper written well by the usual academic standards.
How do we judge the final papers?
We assess how well the paper achieves each of four goals separately: use of course materials, biographical analysis, causal analysis, and quality of writing. Then we arrive at a summary "overall" assessment that determines the paper grade. This summary assessment mainly reflects these four components. The overall assessment may also be raised or lowered a bit to take into account general characteristics of the paper (either positive or negative) that are not captured by the four major criteria; if that happens, it will be reflected in the textual comments on the paper.
We assess how well a paper meets each of the four main goals by giving an evaluation between "poor" and "excellent" (see the full range in the table at the bottom of this page). "Okay" is the standard with which we begin; it is our expectation for an average paper of an average student. As used here, "okay" means that the paper has met our expectations for reasonable, normal, or average performance.
To help make the assessments easier to understand, below is a fuller description of the four goals or criteria, what we expect for an average paper, and what makes a paper better or worse than "okay". Following that is a table that roughly shows how the assessments relate to grades.
The four assessment areas for final papers
- Knowledgeable use of course material.
A paper should show command of course material. The
use of course material in the biographies must be selective, of
course, but the paper should reflect a broad
range of the readings where the central ideas or evidence are
relevant to the subjects considered in the biography. The
paper should use these
course materials effectively.
This means that the paper uses correct
interpretations of the readings, it makes sensible
connections between the course material and the
biography, it avoids
referring to materials that are inappropriate
or unneeded, and it does not
overlook course materials and ideas that are appropriate
and would enhance analysis. In short, we are looking for breadth, depth, and accuracy.
- Okay implies that each part of the paper has the most important relevant references to the course material, that most parts are responsive to a correct interpretation of the referenced material, and that at least some parts of the paper explicitly attempt to state what the course material means and how the biographical issue relates to it.
- A paper gets a lower than okay assessment if it does not meet one or more of the expectations for "okay" just stated.
- A paper is considered better
than okay to the degree that it
- uses or responds to major arguments from the materials rather than relying on narrow points encompassed in a short quotation,
- consistently gives good, explicit statements of the arguments used in the course materials
- shows a better than average range in the materials considered,
- when using the course materials, the paper responds to the causal arguments rather than simply comparing outcomes in life with outcomes expected by the course materials
- includes particularly thoughtful or original insights into course materials
- Analytical biography. A paper should unearth the
biographical significance of
gender in a thoughtful and analytically sound
manner. The paper should aim to show how someone's gender
has played a central role in their biography. It should try
to reveal how a
person's gender identity has evolved,
how and why it reflects
and defies the social
influences in the person's environment, and what it
implies about the author's future.
It should seek to
show how someone's life has
differed from what might have been were their gender different.
Distinct from the use of course material, the biographical
analysis should show a good understanding of the ideas developed
in this course (by presenting an analytical investigation of
gender's role in the biography, by seeing the kinds of things we
would expect from someone who has understood and applied the
ideas developed in the class, by avoiding saying things that
conflict with the ideas developed in the class). The paper
should achieve some kind of insights
about gender's biographical impact that go beyond stating the
obvious or mundane (for example, showing us how the author's
embodiment of gender is both like and unlike dominant
patterns). The paper should not leave us asking, so
what? Here we are looking to see how well the paper meets
the analytical expectations described in the guidelines and class
- Okay implies that each part of the paper looks at a biographical issue concerning gender, it examines the long-term biographical implications of most stories considered, and it at least sometimes attempts biographical insights responsive to the ideas and materials of the class.
- A paper's biographical analysis appears less
than okay if
- the paper inappropriately stresses observations of other people (e.g., what happened to my brother) or relies on general commentary on relevant social issues,
- if, when appropriate biographical episodes are considered, the paper repeatedly fails to examine the biographical implications of the events, processes, or circumstances described,
- or if biographical episodes or issues lack consistent or accurate connections to the course material.
- Better-than-okay assessments do the desired facets of the biographical analysis more consistently, more thoughtfully, more often, or with greater breadth
- Causal analysis. Does the work have legitimate
causal analyses considering issues of
effectively? An effective causal analysis will refer to
causal arguments in the course materials and also identify
plausible causal sequences explaining gender's autobiographical
- Okay implies that at some points the paper has tried, plausibly, to explain the role of gender in the events or circumstances it describes, it has effectively used causal arguments in the course materials (rather than simply responding to statements about the ways people act and what usually happens), it has explored why their gender identity developed in one direction rather than another. The goal here is to compare the causal processes in one's own biography with the causal arguments developed in the course materials.
- Paper's causal analyses are less
than okay if they
- show little or no effort to pursue questions of "how?" and "why?" or misunderstand what these questions mean
- treat the course materials solely as descriptive statements summarizing what people do and what happens to people, showing little or no awareness that a principal value of these materials lies with the causal arguments exploring how differential opportunities, historically created structures, norms, pursuit of self interests, and other circumstances produce the relevant gender effects
- consider socialization and gender differences sufficient explanations of all gender related biographical influences (that is, rely on the weakest and least meaningful approaches to explanation)
- Better-than-okay papers pursue causal arguments consistently and thoughtfully, showing a strong grasp of ideas in the class materials.
- Quality of writing. Here we simply ask if the
paper is well-written in the usual sense. We consider
whether the paper is well-organized, displays good prose, has a
clear focus and path from beginning to end, and has a good
introduction and conclusion.
- Okay implies papers that follow all the basic rules for expository prose, including a sensible organization, writing that is clear and syntactically correct, including accurate citations and bibliography.
- Less-than-okay papers simply fall short on one or more dimensions of the normal expectations for a well-written paper.
- More-than-okay papers rise above the basic expectations. They use prose that reads quickly and easily, are engaging or witty, paint the biographical scenes vividly, avoid any excess, and the like.
The summary evaluations
- Comments [Initial Draft Only]. Brief comments are also offered where appropriate. These aim to flesh out the judgment of the papers with a few select and pointed observations. They aim to identify the issues that need to be addressed to improve the paper.
- Overall Quality [Final Paper Only]. This is the summary evaluation of the final paper. In most cases, it simply pulls together the implications of the four assessments above. In general, the four criteria are given about the same weight, although in special cases some criterion may be given more weight because this aspect stands out in the paper (usually because it has been done well). Also, on occasion some other overall characteristic of the paper that is not captured by these four criteria may also stand out, either positively or negatively, and become an additional influence on the overall summary.
Interpreting the summary assessments for final papers
The following table shows the terms used for the paper assessments and briefly indicates both what they are meant to convey in words and what is the approximate letter grade equivalent.
|Assessment||Meaning|| Rough Grade
|Excellent||A step beyond, truly exceptional, outstanding||A+|
|Very Good||Demonstrates all the knowledge and effort we hope to see||A|
|Good||Solid work that could still be improved with effort||A-|
|Fairly Good|| Somewhat better than adequate or okay
|Okay||Average or adequate - neither more nor less||B|
|Nearing Okay||Approaching "okay" but straining the bounds of acceptability||B-|
|Weak||Shows some effort and some knowledge, but clearly falls short||C|
|Poor||Did something, but it is seriously deficient||D|
|Very Poor||Nothing or as bad as nothing||F|