Skidmore College

Standards and Expectations/
Writing--In-The-Disciplines Workshop:

Creating Writing-In-The-Disciplines Websites

June 12-June 16, 2000

Writing Expectations
Discipline-specific characteristics
Grading and Assessment Rubrics
Departmental Writing Pages

Grading and Assessment Rubrics



The following descriptions attempt to draw a rough profile in four general categories of papers that fall into the high, middle and low range. Instructors should keep all these categories in mind when judging a student's writing and should not be overly influenced by problems in a particular category. However, serious problems in any one of these categories will obviously undermine an essay.




The essay is unified around and focused on a significant central idea. It raises expectations and fulfills them. It proceeds in a discernible direction.


The essay is mostly on one subject. It has discernible order and some feeling for a central idea and its parts. The writer stays on the topic, but may not always be in control of it. The reader isn't always sure of the direction the essay will take.


The writer doesn't have any idea, implied or stated, on which to focus, or, conversely, may present the reader with far too many unrelated general ideas. The essay has no discernible direction or may set up false expectations in the mind of the reader.


The main idea is developed logically in coherent, unified paragraphs. The essay includes definitions of key words-definitions that are naturally integrated into the student's thesis. The transitions from paragraph to paragraph are effective, and there is an easy and natural movement from the general to the specific, both in ideas and language. Generalizations are supported with extensive concrete detail.


Some paragraphs may be insufficiently developed or lack unity and coherence. Paragraphs may not be linked to each other or to the main idea of the essay. Illustrations and examples may be insufficient. Sometimes examples will not be subordinated to the generalizations they support. Occasionally an example will get out of control and take over a paragraph or even the whole essay.


Ideas are fragmented. Paragraphing is arbitrary. There are either too many unrelated generalizations or too many details that are inappropriate or irrelevant. Examples are often not properly subordinated to the ideas they support. There are few real connections between the paragraphs, and the essay will probably stop without concluding anything, or have a mechanical or false conclusion tacked onto it.

STYLE (Sentences, tone, diction, point of view)

Related words and ideas are kept together, and all general and abstract terms are elaborated as soon as possible. There is some variety in the length and type of sentences employed by the writer, and the transitions (implicit or explicit) between sentences are smooth and effective.

The writer succeeds in creating a voice that expresses his or her feelings and point of view. There is a deliberate use of tone and sense of audience.

Vocabulary is interesting, varied, and effective. The writer is aware of the connotations of the words he or she uses and is imaginative in the choice of language.


The style may be monotonous. There probably won't be enough variety in sentence structure or in the length of the sentences. The writer may fail to place proper emphasis on the main idea of a sentence, combine closely related ideas in successive sentences, or employ subordination to achieve emphasis. The writer will not always keep related ideas and words together in a sentence, and this failure will result in dangling or misplaced modifiers and ambiguities that slow down a reader's comprehension. Often the syntax of a sentence will not reflect the logical relationship of its discrete clauses. There will probably be many places where there is no real transition from one sentence to another.

There is some attempt to use tone; however, the tone may be inconsistent, occasionally inappropriate, or reflect a wavering sense of audience. The reader is not always sure of the writer's attitude toward audience or subject matter.

The writer may be unsure of the connotations of some of the words he or she uses or employ cliches or jargon. Verbs may be weak (too many state-of-being verbs or passive constructions). Word choice is not always as imaginative or interesting as it could be, and the language at times may be either too formal and stilted or too informal.


Sentences are often short and choppy or long and incoherent. The writer doesn't seem to know how to create emphasis in a sentence or how to relate clauses in a sentence. Syntax rarely reflects the logic of the idea the writer wishes to express. There are few transitions between sentences, and the lack of focus in the essay not only contributes to this fault, but also results in over generalization and redundancy at the sentence level. Because the writer doesn't understand the principles of sentence structure very well, there are problems of faulty parallelism, dangling elements, and misplaced inodif ers. Ambiguities abound. The reader is often forced to reread sentences and provide the connections that the writer has left out. There may be run-on sentences or sentence fragments.

The writer has little or no sense of audience and is often unsure of his or her own attitude toward the subject under discussion. Tone and point of view may constantly shift as the essay develops. Frequent tense shifts and errors in pronoun agreement are often symptoms of the writer's failure to establish a strong and consistent point of view.

Language may be stilted and overly formal, too informal and slangy, selfconscious, juvenile, or simply unidiomatic. Choice of words is limited and unimaginative, and the writer often has no real sense of the connotations of the words used. The writer may rely too heavily on state-of-being verbs, vague adjectives, and cliches.


The essay has almost no misspellings and punctuation errors. It is generally free of mechanical errors and grammatical irregularities that would annoy, distract, or mislead the reader.


The essay may not have very many mechanical problems, and if they do exist, there are not enough of them to annoy and distract the reader or impede comprehension.


There will probably be enough mechanical errors to annoy the reader and impede comprehension. These may include misspellings, problems with verb endings, punctuation errors, pronoun reference and agreement, and run-on sentences and sentence fragments, with their accompanying punctuation errors.

The following questions state, in abbreviated form, the above criteria:

1. Does the author have a main idea and does he or she stick to it?

2. Does the author make defensible assertions and supply adequate details to support these


3. Do the sentences and paragraphs flow smoothly?

4. Do the sentence patterns vary?

5. Is the essay relatively free of grammatical errors, punctuation errors, and misspellings?


High B+ à A+

Middle C+ à B

Low NC (no credit) à C

For Information on this Workshop please contact Michael Marx, Director of Writing-Across-The-Curriculum (