Core Humanities at the University of Nevada

Below are some useful guidelines for grading writing assignments, adapted from Nancy Sommers, Responding to Student Writers (Boston: Bedford/St.Martinís, 2013).

  • Adopt a positive attitude. Facing a stack of papers is depressing enough without being all grumpy and resentful about it, so try to think of it as a learning opportunity. Students do sometimes give us new ways of thinking about things that we hadnít thought of before, and even in the worst papers itís still interesting to see how they are dealing with the course material.
  • Respond to the student, not the paper. Write comments that engage the studentís ideas, for example by asking questions, requesting clarification, or suggesting ways of thinking about the material as well as setting them straight on any factual errors or misinterpretations of the readings and lectures.
  • Provide substantive comments. This doesnít mean you have to cover every page in red ink, but you should offer more than just a series of unexplained symbols or abbreviations. Write brief comments in the margins and summarize your overall assessment of the essay at the end.
  • Take a balanced approach. Identify strengths as well as weaknesses, and give praise where itís due. Not every comment has to be critical.
  • Identify patterns. Look for things the student does consistently to highlight in your comments and suggest how they can work on problem areas in future.
  • Avoid excessive copyediting. Correcting every typing or grammatical mistake is time consuming and counterproductive. Students need to learn how to identify their own mistakes, which they can never do if we are always doing it for them. Advise students to consult a grammar guide or visit the University Writing Center if they seem unable to construct a coherent sentence.
  • Be respectful. Students are super-sensitive to anything that seems to ridicule or belittle them, so make sure your comments sound friendly and helpful, not harsh.
  • Critique first, then grade. Donít use your comments to justify a grade. Read the paper first of all as a mentor who wants to help improve the studentís writing and analytical skills. Then, after writing your comments, assess the paper according to your standard grading criteria (which should be outlined in your syllabus) and assign a grade based on that.
  • Offer additional help to problem students. Whenever you give a D or F grade, invite the student to come and meet with you so that you can provide additional assistance. You can also refer them to the Tutoring Center or the University Writing Center if they need more help.