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Developing Grading Criteria for Writing Assignments

Developed by Dr. Libby Allison
Director, Master of Arts Program in Technical Communication
Department of English

Tips for Grading Writing

  • Talk with your students about your grading expectations.
  • Provide students with grading expectations prior to an assignment.
  • Create a rubric, explaining what constitutes a specific grade. The following is an example (see below for a detailed set of criteria):

The “A” Paper or Project

  • Meets and exceeds all standards.
  • Is free from grammatical errors.
  • Conveys a superior understanding of audience, purpose, and context.
  • Has a special quality—for example, uses particularly engaging or persuasive style.
  • Contains thorough, complete, and accurate information.
  • Has outstanding visual display.
  • Is well developed and organized.
  • Contains appropriate examples and citations.

Tips Continued

  • Give students a model of what you consider a well written document.
  • Use other students’ well written work for examples. (You must get permission in writing from the students to use their work; they need to know it is voluntary; you will need to discuss with them whether or not to use their names, and you need to set a time limit on how many semesters you will use a student’s work.)
  • When grading many, smaller assignments, such as posing a question for students to answer in a paragraph, try a holistic scoring method, such as a point range from 0-4 points, with 0 points for not doing the assignment or not answering the question, and 4 points for a well written paragraph with evidence, and sound, reasonable conclusion.
  • When grading longer, and/or many papers, use a simple, analytical scale. For instance, give a certain number of points for each of these categories: quality of ideas, organization and development, clarity and style, and sentence structure and mechanics. (See John C. Bean, Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco: 2001: 259.)
  • Get students involved by creating their own grading criteria for an assignment.

Grading Criteria

Students often wonder about the criteria for grades on assignments and projects. Grades for writing, editing, and designing assignments and projects are not as simply assessed as those for other courses where answers are yes or no. In grading these projects, there is always some subjectivity. However, the following list of criteria may help guide you in understanding how grades are assessed for any given assignment or project.

The “A” Paper or Project

  • Meets and exceeds all standards.
  • Is free from grammatical errors.
  • Conveys a superior understanding of audience, purpose, and context.
  • Has a special quality—for example, uses particularly engaging or persuasive style.
  • Contains thorough, complete, and accurate information.
  • Has outstanding visual display.
  • Is well developed and organized.
  • Contains appropriate examples and citations.

Your company or organization would be pleased to distribute this document or project. In fact, it might gain you a promotion, or you could be asked to do this kind of project again.

The “B” Paper or Project

  • Is a very good project that meets the standards for the assignment and engages the reader/viewer.
  • May contain some minor flaws, small departures from the standards that can be fixed or overcome without much trouble.
  • Well-written and well-produced with a solid understanding of audience, purpose, and context. Contains proper citations and examples and is sufficiently well developed and organized.

Although the document or project would certainly represent the company well, your supervisor sees some areas in which you need to improve it and he/she is eager to help such an able and hardworking employee.

The “C” Paper or Project

  • Is adequate in meeting standards but may contain several flaws.
  • Does the job but does not engage the reader/viewer or stick in his/her mind.
  • May fail to answer one or two major questions about the topic.
  • May contain errors in logic or miss important sources.
  • Sources may be handled awkwardly.
  • May contain serious grammatical errors.
  • May not be sufficiently developed.

The document or project could not be sent out to your organization’s audiences, clients, or users without revision.

The “D” Paper or Project

  • Forces the reader to do too much work to understand or read it because of serious grammatical problems or incomplete information.
  • Fails to meet an important requirement of the assignment.

Your organization or company would not send out the document or project, and your supervisor is not a happy camper. 

The “F” Paper or Project

  • Work not completed or does not address the assignment. It’s about time for you to be looking for another job.
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