Rubric for Evaluating Papers

G. Scott Acton, Ph.D.
Rochester Institute of Technology

The Superior Paper (A/A-)

Topic: Important, original, interesting.

Thesis: Easily identifiable, plausible, novel, sophisticated, insightful, crystal clear.

Structure: Sections, paragraphs, and sentences use rigid parallelism. Introduction and conclusion are adequately developed (i.e., with more than one paragraph).

Evidence: Every major point is supported with references to scholarly sources (i.e., journal articles, books, or book chapters). Sources cited are important and/or recent. Quotations (with page numbers) are used sparingly only for particularly noteworthy or important statements.

(Note: Importance of sources is generally easier to recognize for professionals than for students. Some measures of importance are: (a) published in a "good" journal, such as a journal having a high average citation rate as indicated on the Personality Journals page, or most of the American Psychological Association journals, which are indexed exclusively and available in full-text in the PsycARTICLES database; (b) has been cited by (i.e., listed in the references section of) many other articles, as indicated in the PsycINFO database and in Google Scholar. Such scientometric indicators are widely regarded as useful indicators of importance, and understanding a scientific topic usually requires being familiar with the most important articles on that topic and seeing their relevance to one's own thesis.)

Logic and argumentation: All ideas in the paper flow logically; argument is identifiable, reasonable, and sound. Author includes and successfully defuses counter-arguments leveled by others. Author includes his or her own evaluation of the evidence.

Mechanics: Author omits needless words; sentence structure, grammar, and diction excellent; correct use of punctuation and scientific style; minimal to no spelling errors.

Improvement: Cover letter shows clear benefit from feedback on previous drafts.

The Good Paper (B+/B)

Topic: Important, original, interesting.

Thesis: Promising, but may be slightly unclear or lacking in insight or originality.

Structure: Generally clear and appropriate, though may wander occasionally; may have a few unclear transitions or a few paragraphs without strong topic sentences.

Evidence: Some evidence does not support point; some points are not supported with references; many references are old or marginally important; some quotations could better be put in the author's own words.

Logic and argumentation: Argument of paper is clear, usually flows logically and makes sense; some evidence that counter-arguments acknowledged, though perhaps not addressed; occasional insightful connections made to outside material.

Mechanics: Sentence structure, grammar, and diction strong despite occasional lapses; punctuation and scientific style often used correctly; some minor spelling errors.

Improvement: Cover letter shows some benefit from feedback, but may be argumentative in places; perhaps early draft was not well enough developed for peers to evaluate adequately.

The Borderline Paper (B-/C+)

Topic: Somewhat important, may overlap with previously published papers, may be overly narrow and technical or too broad and diffuse.

Thesis: May be unclear or contain many vague terms, appear unoriginal, or offer relatively little that is new.

Structure: Generally unclear, often wanders or jumps around; few or weak transitions, many paragraphs without topic sentences.

Evidence: Points often lack supporting evidence or evidence used where there is no clear point; excessive use of quotations.

Logic and argumentation: Logic may often fail, or argument may often be unclear; may not address counter-arguments or make outside connections.

Mechanics: Problems in sentence structure, grammar, and diction (usually not major); errors in punctuation, scientific style, and spelling.

Improvement: Peers found early draft difficult to follow or obviously incomplete; cover letter may be argumentative or dismissive.

The "Needs Help" Paper (C/C-)

Topic: Marginally important, unoriginal, uninteresting.

Thesis: Difficult to identify at all, may be bland restatement of obvious point.

Structure: Unclear, often because thesis is weak or non-existent; transitions confusing and unclear; few topic sentences.

Evidence: Few or weak references cited (e.g., cites mainly web pages, popular magazines, textbooks, encyclopedias, or dissertations); general failure to support statements, or evidence cited appears to support no statement; quotes "plopped in" in improper manner.

Logic and argumentation: Ideas do not flow at all, usually because there is no argument to support; simplistic view of topic; no effort to grasp possible alternative views.

Mechanics: Big problems in sentence structure, grammar, and diction; frequent major errors in scientific style, punctuation, and spelling.

Improvement: Did not participate in or benefit from peer review process.

The Very Poor Paper (D+/D/D-)

Shows obviously minimal effort or comprehension of the assignment; very difficult to understand owing to major problems with mechanics, structure, and analysis; has no identifiable thesis or utterly incompetent thesis; probably a first draft.

The Failing Paper (F)

Includes plagiarized material--that is, quotes others' work without proper use of quotation marks and citation with page numbers. Beware: With a little effort, plagiarism is easy to spot. RIT considers plagiarism a violation of ethics.


Adapted from Halsall, P. (2004, November 10). General evaluation rubric for college papers [WWW document].

Last modified April 2005
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