Designing Rubrics

Deciding Which Type of Rubric to Use

Rubrics are generally broken down into two types:  holistic and analytic.

Holistic Rubrics

A holistic rubric provides students with a general overview of what is expected by describing the characteristics of a paper that would earn an “A,” (or be marked “excellent”), a B (or “proficient”) a C (or “average”) and so on.

Here is an example of a holistic rubric for weekly reading responses in a religion course: 


As you can see, a holistic rubric gives students a sense of the criteria for evaluation (in this case: understanding of the text, engagement with the text, ability to explain significance of argument, organization & ability to answer the prompt, and grammar, mechanics & formatting).  However, it does not assign any particular value to these criteria and therefore allows more room for variation between papers of one grade.

Benefits of Holistic Rubrics:

Holistic rubrics tend to work best for low-stakes writing assignments, and there are several benefits to using a holistic rubric for evaluation:

  • They allow for slightly more impressionistic grading, which is useful when papers may vary dramatically from one another.  (This particular rubric would be used to respond to one of several different prompts that students could choose from each week).
  • They encourage students to think of all the parts of their writing as interconnected, so (for example) students see organization as connected to clarity of ideas.
  • When used for recurring assignments, they allow students to see a trend in the feedback for their writing.
  • They allow for quicker grading, since you can highlight or circle specific words or phrases to draw students’ attention to areas of possible improvement.
Drawbacks of Holistic Rubrics:

One potential drawback to holistic rubrics, however, is that it can be difficult for students to identify discrete areas for improvement or get specific examples of common missteps.

Analytic Rubrics

An analytic rubric is one that explicitly breaks down an assignment into its constitutive skills and provides students with guidelines for what each performance level looks like for each skill.

Here is an example of an analytic rubric for the same assignment:

As you can see, an analytic rubric provides students with much clearer definition of the evaluation criteria.  It may or may not assign points to each criteria.

Benefits of Analytic Rubrics: 

Analytic rubrics tend to work well for complex assignments.  There are several benefits to choosing an analytic rubric:

  • They allow more specific feedback for students, which can be particularly useful in guiding revision.
  • They provide students with more specific guidelines that they can follow when writing their papers.
  • They provide students with a sense of your priorities for the assignment.
  • They allow for more regular grading.
Drawbacks of Analytic Rubrics:

One drawback to analytic rubrics, however, is that they can be difficult to develop for assignments you’re asking students to complete for the first time; if you haven’t yet seen what can go wrong, it can be difficult to identify what poor performance might look like.



Bean, John C. Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom.  San Francisco: Jossy-Bass, 2001.

“Creating and Using Rubrics.” The Assessment Office. The University of Hawaii at Mānoa. 18 December 2013.  Web. 1 June 2014.

“How to Develop a Rubric.” Ohio State Writing Across the Curriculum Resources.  Ohio State University. Web. 1 June 2014.

“Rubric Development.” Center for University Teaching, Learning, and Assessment.  University of West Florida.  24 April 2014.  Web. 1 June 2014.