Designing Rubrics

Developing Assessment Criteria

After you have decided which type of rubric you’ll use for your class, the next step is to decide which skills or knowledge you expect students to display in their papers.  Here are a few questions that may help develop criteria to assess student writing:

What is the purpose of the assignment? 

What skills or knowledge do you want students to display?  Returning to the “purpose” section of your prompt may be helpful here. The Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University suggests considering whether your assignment is designed for students to demonstrate the following:

  • Clarity
  • Creativity
  • Rigor
  • Thoroughness
  • Precision
  • Demonstration of Knowledge
  • Critical Inquiry

You might also consider:

  • Demonstration of Research Skills
  • Awareness of Disciplinary Conventions
  • Synthesis of Information
How have you already discussed the assignment with students?

Revisiting the writing guides and the “criteria” section of your prompt can provide you with ready-made terminology for evaluation criteria. You might also check our list of precise language for describing writing tasks. 

Can you adapt an existing rubric? 

Our list of further resources and model rubrics includes links to several rubrics that you may want to adapt for your assignment.

What, if any, are the criteria you will repeat on each rubric? 

You may choose to have a section of your rubric that you use for each assignment for the semester, so that students know that they will always be expected to, for example, use disciplinary conventions in their writing, or include a counterargument.  The capstone rubrics designed by the departments can be particularly helpful in choosing reusable criteria. 

How many criteria do you need? 

Most rubrics tend to identify somewhere between three and eight criteria for evaluation.

What’s the worst-case scenario? 

If you’re assigning value, it’s useful to think in terms of minimum requirements.  How important is each section of your rubric?  If you’re comfortable with a student making an A on a paper that includes multiple grammatical mistakes (and there may be assignments where this is the case) then five points out of a hundred might work fine.  If not, then maybe that section should be worth ten or fifteen points.

Do you want to involve your class? 

The authors of “On the ‘Uses’ of Rubrics” suggest including a wild-card slot in your rubric or involving your class in the creation of the rubric.  Spending fifteen or twenty minutes as a class discussing and establishing the important criteria for grading can certainly build student involvement in an assignment and help build a sense of fairness in evaluation.



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

“Creating Grading Criteria.”  The Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning.  Brown University. n.d. Web. 1 June 2014.

“Grading Student Work.” Center for Teaching. Vanderbilt University. n.d. Web. 1 June 2014.

Linder, Katherine. “How to Develop a Rubric.” Ohio State Writing Across the Curriculum Resources.  Ohio State University. 16 November 2011. Web. 1 June 2014.

“Matching Learning Goals to Assignment Types.” Teaching Commons.  DePaul University. n.d. Web. 1 June 2014.

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

Tierny, Robin and Marielle Simon.  “What’s Still Wrong with Rubrics: Focusing on the consistency of performance criteria across scale levels.”  Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 9(2).  Web. 1 June 2014.

Turley, Eric and Chris W. Gallagher.  “On the ‘Uses’ of Rubrics: Reframing the Great Rubric Debate.”  The English Journal 97.4 (2008): 87-92.