Evaluation Rubrics for Writing

What’s a Rubric?

The standard definition of a rubric is a category or set of categories.

In education, we sometimes call a grading matrix a rubric. This matrix is a table of measured areas, criteria for mastery, and evaluation scale. Unlike grading a multiple-choice exam, evaluating writing is always somewhat subjective. Rubrics promise standardization in grading. If a teacher explains a rubric to students when an assignment is given, the students have a clear appreciation for what an instructor values most and how grades will be calculated. Many public school districts insist teachers use rubrics based on standardized test models. Some colleges and universities also have rubrics for required writing courses, usually when adjuncts and teaching assstants grade papers.

Resisting Rubrics
I resist being assigned a rubric, which has happened several times in my teaching experiences. A rubric can and should be developed “organically” with students, helping them identify the objectives of a writing assignment. Canned rubrics tend to focus on grammar, mechanics, and formatting. Formatting a paper is not writing; word processors come with templates. Ideas and reasoning should be what we value.

Rubrics can be extremely detailed, indicating points for everything from having proper margins to meeting minimum word counts. More often, rubrics use general categories for evaluation. For feedback, some rubrics indicate points or percentages, while others use scales with codes such as “NI: Needs Improvement.” Studies have reached different conclusions as to which combinations are best. Students know that “S” for “Satisfactory” is the same as a “C” or a 70%. What matters is how clear expectations are before an assignment is graded.

The most complex rubrics are open-ended checklists, also known as feedback forms. These rubrics are not forms so much as they are questionnaires for the instructor to complete. The benefit of feedback forms is that every student receives some feedback in the various categories being graded. These forms are also time consuming. Many instructors use them during the editing and revising stages of assignments.

To Rubric or Not to Rubric?

Experienced teachers find they can tell the overall grade of a paper within a few minutes. When these teachers are asked to develop and use a rubric, the grades in a class seldom change. They key to a good rubric is that it is developed by the teacher, for a specific class. Generalized rubrics tend to be far less useful.

Why use a rubric? They can help students recognize areas for improvement. A rubric also reduces student protests over grades. When grading writing, a rubric helps students feel their grades are less subjective. But, that means we have a problem explaining grading to students — not that rubrics are “good.”

Example Rubrics


Basic A-D Grammar School Rubric

Grade Format Quality Content
  • Complete
  • Adheres to style conventions
  • Imaginative (assignment dependent)
  • Error free
  • Clear
  • Well written
  • Critical: demonstrates personal experience, ideas, and imagination
  • Reflective: awareness of several points of view
  • Goes beyond required sources
  • Complete
  • Adheres to most style conventions
  • Few errors
  • Clear
  • Analytical: logical arrangement of views
  • Reflective: awareness of own views and some source views
  • Goes beyond basic sources
  • Fairly complete
  • Some style violations
  • Some errors
  • Lacks coherency
  • Unstructured
  • Descriptive: accurately summarizes source information
  • Reflects only source views and information, not personal
  • Uses only basic sources
  • Incomplete
  • Ignores style conventions
  • Many Errors
  • Incoherent writing
  • Severely Unstructured
  • Descriptive: mostly accurate summaries, with some gaps
  • Not reflective of source or personal views and knowledge
  • Minimal or no sources cited

Point-Based Rubric

Area Explanation Score Possible
Attention to Conventions: Proper Formatting Decisions Is the proper format adhered to throughout the paper? (MLA/APA/other) Citations and bibliography given special weight in academic papers.   10
Quality of Writing: Clarity and Coherence Does the paper demonstrate proper sentence structures, paragraph decisions, and transitions? Does the paper “flow” well? Grammar and mechanics can affect clarity.   25
Rhetorical Choices Does the paper demonstrate a clear purpose? Does it appreciate the intended audience?   25
Interpretation: Sources and Information Does the paper use academically reliable sources? Does the paper explore the inconsistencies or biases of sources?   10
Analysis: Developing New Insights Does the paper synthesize the information from external sources or research to form new conclusions? Does any conclusion demonstrate the ability to judge ideas rationally?   10
Communication: Arguing Academically Does the author argue succinctly, including enough information while avoiding “citation overload” in the paper? Can the author justify his or her opinions and/or results of study?   20






Feedback Form

Title and Thesis

Comments Mark
Appreciating the importance of a clear thesis
  1. What does the title suggest or imply?
  2. What is the thesis?
    1. Is the thesis statement concise?
    2. Is the thesis narrow enough for a paper?



Rhetorical Choices

Comments Mark
  1. What is the subject of the paper?
    1. What is the specific topic?
    2. What is the question about the topic?
  2. Who is the author?
    1. What is the “persona” within the text?
      1. How defined is the persona?
      2. Does the author seem authoritative?
    2. Who is the author, beyond the text?
  3. What is the intended audience?
    1. General or niche?
      1. General public
      2. Professional field
      3. Academic
      4. Political
    2. Where is the text published?
  4. What is the purpose of the paper?
    1. Does it educate?
    2. Is it a “call to action?”
  5. What is the context of the paper?
    1. What is the community?
    2. What else influences the author?



Organization and Form

Comments Mark
  1. Is the paper organized?
    1. Is it consistent? Does it maintain a single thesis?
    2. Can it be outlined or summarized?
  2. Does each paragraph represent a complete thought?
    1. Are there facts relating to a question or thesis?
    2. Are there transitions from one paragraph to the next?
  3. Are there major spelling or grammar errors?
  4. Is the format appropriate and properly implemented?
    1. Are citations executed properly?
    2. Is the overall format correct?




Comments Mark
  1. Is the conclusion complete?
    1. Does it summarize the evidence?
    2. Does it restate the thesis?




Critical Thinking Rubric

Based on a Scale Developed by California State University, Fresno, 2002

Scoring Level Interpretation Analysis & Evaluation Presentation
4 - Accomplished
  • Analyzes insightful questions
  • Refutes bias
  • Critiques content
  • Examines inconsistencies
  • Values information
  • Examines conclusions
  • Uses reasonable judgment
  • Discriminates rationally
  • Synthesizes data
  • Views information critically
  • Argues succinctly
  • Discusses issues thoroughly
  • Shows intellectual honesty
  • Justifies decisions
  • Assimilates information
3 - Competent
  • Asks insightful questions
  • Detects bias
  • Categorizes content
  • Identifies inconsistencies
  • Recognizes context
  • Formulates conclusions
  • Recognizes arguments
  • Notices differences
  • Evaluates data
  • Seeks out information
  • Argues clearly
  • Identifies issues
  • Attributes sources naturally
  • Suggests solutions
  • Incorporates information
2 - Developing
  • Identifies some questions
  • Notes some bias
  • Recognizes basic content
  • States some inconsistencies
  • Selects sources adequately
  • Identifies some conclusions
  • Sees some arguments
  • Identifies some differences
  • Paraphrases data
  • Assumes information valid
  • Misconstrues arguments
  • Generalizes issues
  • Cites sources
  • Presents few options
  • Overlooks some information
1 - Beginning
  • Fails to question data
  • Ignores bias
  • Misses major content areas
  • Misses inconsistencies
  • Chooses biased sources
  • Fails to draw conclusions
  • Sees no arguments
  • Overlooks differences
  • Repeats data
  • Omits research
  • Omits argument
  • Misrepresents issues
  • Excludes data
  • Draws faulty conclusions
  • Shows intellectual dishonesty



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Writer: C. S. Wyatt
Updated: 08-Mar-2017
Editor: S. D. Schnelbach