Mayo's Clinics

Jan 24, 2022, 9:10
Objectively Evaluating Writing Assignments

Objectively Evaluating Writing Assignments

01 February 2017

Dr. Fred Mayo discusses tactics to objectively grade writing assignments for instructors and students. 

By Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT

This column has focused on writing for two months. I have looked at designing interesting and unusual writing assignments and now I will focus on strategies for evaluating writing assignments. I think it’s important to place great emphasis on this area since it is such an important aspect of our teaching and assessment.

Objectivity in Evaluating Writing
Reading students papers can be a challenging activity; often it becomes subjective unless we prepare ourselves to make it as objective as possible. Here are a few ways to ensure as much objectivity as you can.

  1.  Shuffle papers. Require students to submit papers with cover sheets which include student name, date, course title, title of paper or assignment and nothing else. Then turn over the cover sheets, shuffle the papers, and read the papers without knowing who wrote them. In this manner, you are forced to look only at the paper in front of you.
  2. Colored pens. Another way to ensuring objectivity is to use various colored pens to mark different issues. I have used one color to correct and make comments about spelling and grammar and a different color pen to make comments about coherence, logic, and use of evidence. When it comes time to place a letter grade on the paper, you can scan it for the various colors and their amounts and apply your criteria accordingly.
  3. Type of assignment. Consider what type of paper you are assessing. Are they a report, reaction paper, reflection paper, research paper, or project presentation and paper? If the assignment was a reaction paper, look for the breadth of comments and the clarity in explaining the emotional response to the situation. If the assignment is a report of a field trip or community activity, look for the number and accuracy of the details as well as the depth of description and analysis. For a research paper, you would have different criteria.
  4. Self-assessment. Another way you can change the dynamics of correcting papers and increasing objectivity involves inviting students to assess their own writing. Give them a simple form to hand in with their paper – or staple to the cover of the paper. It can be as extensive as you want, but I encourage you to ask them to complete the following items:
Item Rating
Coherence of the paper poor fair good excellent
Logical structure of the paper    poor fair good excellent
Use of evidence in the paper                  poor fair good excellent
Introduction to the paper poor fair good excellent
Conclusion to the paper poor fair good excellent

While these four strategies may help, it is essential to consider the criteria you use in evaluating the quality of the writing.

Criteria for Assessing Writing
Assessing the quality of papers involves applying criteria to each paper. Sharing those criteria with students will help them write better papers and also provide some understanding of how their work will be evaluated.

Some of the most common criteria to use in evaluating papers include:

  • To what extent was the paper thorough in its coverage of the topic?
  • To what extent was the paper analytical, as opposed to just descriptive?
  • To what extent was the logic faulty or clear?
  • How insightful was the analysis?
  • How organized was the paper?
  • How focused was the paper?
  • How logical was the argument?
  • How many spelling and grammatical errors did the paper contain?

Being clear with students about these criteria will help them monitor their writing and try to ensure the papers they submit meet these standards.

Try these strategies and notice if they help you in evaluating student writing and if the writing improves. In March we will provide more information about rubrics for these criteria. Then in the April edition of Mayo’s Clinic, we will shift focus to discuss aspects of professional development.

If you have suggestions for other topics or teaching practices you want to share, send them to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and I will include them in future Mayo Clinics.

Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT, is retired as a clinical professor of hotel and tourism management at New York University. As principal of Mayo Consulting Services, he continues to teach around the globe and is a regular presenter at CAFÉ events nationwide. 

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