Using Rubrics to Grade Writing Assignments

Rubrics for Writing Assignments
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Audrey Wick is an English professor and Cengage Faculty Partner


As an instructor, how do you get students to remember concepts you teach?

If you are like most instructors, the answer is “any way I can!”

Indeed, instructors use a variety of techniques to not only teach, but also to assess the learning process. And since instructors are held accountable for success results through data gathering, analysis and reporting, there are many challenges that can arise because of the process.

Enter Rubrics

A rubric is a scoring tool that lists criteria for grading written work. Rubrics are in use by many standardized test companies as well as across primary and secondary grade levels. No wonder then, that college instructors also rely on rubrics since students come into the classroom conditioned for their use.

Additionally, rubrics are beneficial because they:

  • Create a shared understanding of assignment requirements between the student and the instructor
  • Help students know what questions to ask about assignment completion
  • Allow a method of self-editing by enabling a student to “see” what will be assessed
  • Simplify grading and apply consistency of standards across each assignment set

To ensure rubrics are implemented smoothly, consider these four tips.

1. Good rubrics are assignment-specific.

Whether a student is completing an annotated bibliography, a research paper or an end-of-semester portfolio, a good rubric should match the assignment. Each evaluation tool needs to address not only assignment parameters but also take into account expected skills, desired learning outcomes and general semester timing. For instance, what works for a first assignment, in a long semester course, may not be the right rubric for an assignment submitted at the semester’s end.

2. Good rubrics work within the existing curriculum.

There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to class curriculum. The course description, class syllabus, student learning outcomes and instructional design goals should all be considered when an instructor is designing a rubric. What gets assessed—and how much weight is assigned to those metrics—can be decided when a rubric is meaningfully considered next to the other “gears” that are already in place in the clockwork of the college class.

3. Good rubrics are easy to understand.

Reading a rubric should not be painful for students, nor should it involve the need for an advanced degree on its own. Instead, a rubric should be organized in such a way that it allows a student to easily infer the expectations. Keep it to one page—or less. Highlight the exact criteria in some way, through headings, bullet points or bold text. Using rows, columns or a table approach can help achieve a readable structure as well.

4. Good rubrics are made available to students.

Don’t hide the rubrics from students and don’t present them for use AFTER a student has already submitted an assignment. Post them digitally, share hard copies or make them available in some other way, so that students have time to see them, ask questions and use them in their own self-editing of assignments prior to submission. This will also encourage students to manage individual expectations when it comes to their eventual grade on an assignment.

You’re Ready!

Instructors work hard to help students, and that extends to the evaluation of written assignments as well. Assessment of that learning process—especially when it comes to written assignments—can be made more beneficial through the use of rubrics.


Want to learn more about course design and specific evaluation tools including free, downloadable rubrics? Check out this article, Creating a Foundation for a Solid Online Course.