Criteria For Essay Writing

What should I include?

When students write essays, ESL teachers generally look for some common elements. The essay should have good grammar and show the right level of vocabulary. It should be organized, and the content should be appropriate and effective. Teachers also look at the overall effectiveness of the piece. When evaluating specific writing samples, you may also want to include other criteria for the essay based on material you have covered in class. You may choose to grade on the type of essay they have written and whether your students have followed the specific direction you gave. You may want to evaluate their use of information and whether they correctly presented the content material you taught. When you write your own rubric, you can evaluate anything you think is important when it comes to your students’ writing abilities. For our example, we will use grammar, organization and overall effect to create a rubric.

What is an A?

Using the criteria we selected (grammar, organization and overall effect) we will write a rubric to evaluate students’ essays. The most straightforward evaluation uses a four-point scale for each of the criteria. Taking the criteria one at a time, articulate what your expectations are for an A paper, a B paper and so on. Taking grammar as an example, an A paper would be free of most grammatical errors appropriate for the student’s language learning level. A B paper would have some mistakes but use generally good grammar. A C paper would show frequent grammatical errors. A D paper would show that the student did not have the grammatical knowledge appropriate for his language learning level. Taking these definitions, we now put them into the rubric.

GrammarFree of most grammatical errorsSome grammatical mistakes but generally shows successful grammar usageFrequent grammatical errorsAppropriate grammatical knowledge not displayed for current language level
Overall Effect    

The next step is to take each of the other criteria and define success for each of those, assigning a value to A, B, C and D papers. Those definitions then go into the rubric in the appropriate locations to complete the chart.

GrammarFree of most grammatical errorsSome grammatical mistakes but generally shows successful grammar usageFrequent grammatical errorsAppropriate grammatical knowledge not displayed for current language level
OrganizationEssay shows clear organization with appropriate transitionsEssay shows good organization but may lack appropriate transitionsEssay lacks clear organization and appropriate transitionsEssay is disorganized and confusing
Overall EffectA strong overall effect with clear communication and supportA good overall effect with some support and adequate clarityEssay struggles overall and does not give a coherent messageEssay has a poor overall effect and does not fulfill assignment

Each of the criteria will score points for the essay. The descriptions in the first column are each worth 4 points, the second column 3 points, the third 2 points and the fourth 1 point.

What is the grading process?

Now that your criteria are defined, grading the essay is easy. When grading a student essay with a rubric, it is best to read through the essay once before evaluating for grades. Then reading through the piece a second time, determine where on the scale the writing sample falls for each of the criteria. If the student shows excellent grammar, good organization and a good overall effect, he would score a total of ten points. Divide that by the total criteria, three in this case, and he finishes with a 3.33. which on a four-point scale is a B+. If you use five criteria to evaluate your essays, divide the total points scored by five to determine the student’s grade.

Criteria Used for Evaluating Written Work

Appropriateness. Does your essay answer the assigned question? Does your essay address the main topic stated in your thesis?


Clarity of exposition and argument.How clearly have you explained the arguments and concepts from the course material that are relevant to the assignment? How clearly have you expressed your critical evaluation of the arguments contained in the readings? Have you clearly stated the reasons behind your evaluations?


Critical understanding of the material.Have you demonstrated a detailed, thorough understanding of the relevant course readings? Is there any important part of an argument that you have not considered? Do your accounts of the arguments make sense in light of what you know about the larger context in which they are set?


Fairness to the authors' arguments. Are your interpretations of the authors’ arguments charitable? Have you done your best to interpret them as good, strong arguments? If you think a certain argument is badly flawed, can you identify any beliefs that the author may have held which would make the argument stronger than you first thought? If you have expressed doubts about whether a certain premise of the author’s argument is true, have you supplied an argument to show that that premise is probably or certainly false?


Coherence of your explanations and arguments.

Does your essay make sense as a whole? Is it well-organized? At each stage of the essay, is it easy to tell what you are saying and how that fits in with what you have already said? Are there any conflicts between things you say at different points in the essay? Do your arguments flow logically from your premises to your conclusions?


Ability to anticipate objections to your point of view. Have you considered how the authors of the articles you discuss (or someone else who read your essay and disagreed with you) might respond to your arguments? Are your arguments open to any obvious objections? Have you committed any glaring errors of reasoning? Are any of the assumptions you make obviously false?


Creativity. Have you introduced arguments, examples not discussed in the readings or class? Have you presented your ideas in a unique way, an innovative way? Have you contributed your own viewpoints in a way that is innovative, fresh, exciting?

Documentation of works cited.

Have you noted where you refer to the work of writers other than yourself? Have you included page numbers in parentheses in the text of your essay to mark where you refer to works on the course syllabus? Have you included full endnotes or footnotes to mark where you refer to works other than those on the course syllabus? Have you included a bibliography listing all the bibliographical information about books you refer to that are not on the course syllabus?

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