“Just asking students to write does not make the assessment instrument a good one. Essay tests that ask students to form and articulate opinions about some important issue, for instance, without time to reflect, talk to others, read on the subject, revise, and have a human audience promote distorted notions of what writing is. They also encourage poor teaching and little learning. (NCTCE, 2014)”  

Assessment of writing must reflect an appreciation for writing as a process of learning not a mere product to be judged in isolation at the end of learning. Good writing teachers are coaches involved in the writing process at all stages- not just as a judge at the end. 

Studies show conclusively that if students do not revise, they do not improve their writing skill. They will respond to and revise based on instructor comments from draft to draft. However, they won’t in many cases even read a copy edited paper if revision isn’t an option and even good students are often unable to translate skills from one assignment to the next if the skill has not been internalized with a revision that rewards improvement.  

Be their coach -not their editor- at the draft stage. Expect drafts to be rough, but also insist that major components (research, ideas and structure) are in place early. At the draft level, the best comments give students “a map of your mind” as your read (Elbow).  Respond as a friendly coach not a critic: “I’m confused.” v. “This is unclear.” Point out only major organizational problems and make it clear that you expect them to continue to revise and edit all sections of the paper. 

Be their coach- not their editor- on final papers. Comments should focus on suggesting specific improvements and explaining the reason why something is good or bad. Students are sensitive to attacks on their ideas and often view word choice issues as personal style so explaining logic fallacies and wording context to show the rationale behind suggested changes. Also, more importantly, writers only improve when they can see for themselves what is wrong so explain fully anything you want to improve.

 Pick your battles. Research shows students prefer fewer, (5-8) but specific and elaborate comments that are in full sentence format. They dislike comments like “Unpack this” or “Tighten up.” Comment should also not be in the form of editing symbols, cryptic marks, overly abridged language or teacher code like “Awk” or “Frag.” 

Never copy edit. It is rarely fully understood, does NOT teach writing, and leads students to believe that if they correct only those errors then they have successfully revised. If I paper has major gsp errors, stop reading when you realize this and require them to come see you and/or send them to the Writing Center. Mark just one paragraph to show the level of correctness expected or try check marks or highlights on areas that need work.

Good assessment recognizes that rhetorical choices are as important as grammar and stylistic choices. It is sensitive to home dialect and non-native speaker issues and rewards creativity and critical engagement even when grammar, spelling and punctuation errors are present.

Good assessment should show student what they do right even as it notes what they do wrong. Consider the OREO global comment strategy of sandwiching criticism between positive comments. Students want to hear both praise and critique. 

Comments should be phrased as direct statements not as questions or other indirect criticism. They interpret questions as sarcasm and indirect corrections not explained as mere teacher preference. 

Grade when you are well rested, calm, and well fed. Never give sarcastic or unnecessarily harsh criticism and watch the tone and style of your hand written comments. Students are quick to read emotion in handwriting and hostility toward a student for bad writing is both unprofessional and counterproductive to learning. Ask a colleague to review your comments with challenging students.  

Never give a grade without a substantial end note comment that articulates enough reasons to justify it. Also, consider grading in blue or green ink instead of red. It is equally noticeable and does not have the stigma red ink carries for students.

The best assessment practice recognizes that assessment is required to uphold shared writing standards and clearly communicates what is valued and expected well in advance in as much specific detail as possible. Transparent criteria promote fairness and earn credibility from students for the grade, assignment, course, and instructor.

Good writing teachers respect the student’s opinion and authority. We should judge their ability to support and articulate their positions for a reasonable academic audience-not their personality or politics. We should respect their autonomy as writers by not letting them quote us or rewriting for them.

There is no rubric that fits all assignments. Most rubrics assess holistically for content, complexity, organization, development, and correctness. A good rubric outlines the complex rhetorical and research skills needed for the multiple tasks in a given assignment. I recommend the UVA site for models of discipline specific rubrics and tips on rubric creation.

The Campus Writing Rubric can be found at:

The Campus Critical Thinking Rubric can be found at:



 CCCC Committee on Assessment. (November 2014) Guiding Principles for Assessment. 

Retrieved from

Elbow, Peter and Mary Deane Sorcinelli. (1997) Responding to Student Writing. Writing to 

Learn: Strategies for Assigning and Responding to Writing Across the Disciplines. San 

Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 

Gooblar, David. (23 September 2015)  Getting Them to Read Our Comments. Chronicle Vitae 

Pedagogy  Unbound.. Retreived from

Straub, Richard. Students’ Reactions to Teacher Comments: An Exploratory Study. Research in 

the Teaching of English..31(1)91-119. 

White, Edward. (2007) Assigning, Responding, Evaluating. 4th Ed. NY,NY: Bedford.