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Assessment and Feedback of Engineering Writing
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Assessment and feedback of engineering writing
This set of OWL resources aims to help engineering instructors and TAs create and assess a variety of short, low-overhead writing exercises for use in engineering courses. The primary focus here is on “writing to learn” assignments, which leverage writing to improve students’ conceptual understanding of technical concepts.
Writing exercises can be used in engineering courses to promote the deeper learning of technical material and build students’ writing skills. Writing in engineering courses gives students practice in articulating engineering concepts to different audiences and in engaging with technical communication genres. However, engineering instructors and TAs often struggle to incorporate writing into engineering classes due to a variety of challenges, including class size and the amount of time it takes to grade writing assignments. Additionally, the teaching of writing is an entire discipline of study with its own theories and practices that may not be accessible to engineering educators.
The assessment of student writing in engineering courses can vary between simpler analytic rubrics to more complex, holistic rubrics. When “writing-to-learn” is the primary objective of your assignment, a rubric is recommended that focuses more on the technical merit of the student’s content and less on the grammar and mechanics. Additionally, simpler rubrics have the advantage of being quick and easy to apply, which can be necessary for large lecture classes.
Each of the examples below is merely a template; to tailor a rubric to your specific situation, you can change or add categories, change point values, and edit the descriptions of what you expect at each level of achievement.
Rubric Best Practices
- Give students the rubric you will use before they turn in their writing assignments. This helps students understand the basis on which their writing will be scored, and it makes both you and your students accountable to the same set of standards.
- If students are completing their writing assignments in class, make the rubric available to them as they’re writing by putting it up on the projector screen in a Word document or PowerPoint slide.
- Open a class discussion by asking students why they think the assignment is important.
- Ask students to write a response where they describe what effective and ineffective examples of the assignment would look like. Then, have them share their examples and generate criteria based on the characteristics that they describe.
- Brainstorm evaluative criteria as a class. Ask students to volunteer what they consider important traits or characteristics for this assignment and write their ideas on the board. After all answers have been shared, ask students to rank which traits or characteristics are the most important.
- Put students into groups and ask each group to come up with several criteria for evaluating the assignment and rank each one according to their importance. Then, have each group share their criteria and use the most important from each group.
- Have a quick discussion with your students to make sure they understand what each category in the rubric means.
- Discuss why certain categories in the rubric have higher point values than others. For example, you may discuss why showing conceptual knowledge or having adequate evidence to back up a claim is more important than grammatical correctness.
Examples of rubrics suitable for engineering write-to-learn assignments
Simplest—holistic rubric: Writing assignments get a single score based on an overall assessment:
- Creating a holistic rubric takes less time, since there are fewer categories and descriptions.
- With only a single score to assign, grading can be done quickly.
- Students will not receive feedback that shows specifically which aspects of their writing they need to improve upon.
- Without specific feedback, students may not understand why they received a certain grade.
More detailed—analytic rubric: Different aspects of the written responses are each assigned a point value.
Demonstrated conceptual knowledge : The student has demonstrated that they understand the concept(s) that they were tasked to write about.
Quality of support/explanation : The student has provided sufficient evidence for their answer and articulated ideas, concepts, or processes using language suitable for a given audience.
All aspects or parts of question addressed : The student has responded fully to the prompt and answered every part of the question.
Spelling and grammar : The student has proofread and shown an attempt to boost their professional ethos by addressing grammatical and mechanical issues.
Documentation and sources : The student has cited sources according to the given documentation standards.
- Students will receive more targeted feedback that highlights their strengths and weaknesses.
- Students will have a better understanding of the grade they earned.
- With general categories and point values, this type of rubric does not take long to create.
- Grading will take more time than the simplest rubric, since instructors and TAs will have to assign multiple point values.
- Without explanations of each category, students may not understand what each category means, or they may not know what good “quality of support/explanation” or “demonstrated conceptual knowledge” looks like.
Most detailed—analytic rubric: Different aspects of written responses are each assigned a point value based on specific descriptions of each grade division.
- Students will receive the most targeted feedback as they will have descriptions for each category and what each point value means.
- Students will understand the rationale behind the grade they earned.
- Creating this type of rubric will take the most time as instructors and TAs will have to write descriptions for each category and each point value.
- Grading will take more time as instructors and TAs will have to assign multiple point values.
Tips to streamline the grading process for written work:
- Skim through all assignments to find examples of excellent, adequate, and poor answers, in order to establish standards for grading each particular assignment.
- Consider providing collective feedback on common issues in a handout or PowerPoint slide during class, along with individual feedback.
- Have the rubric in front of you while grading so that you keep the criteria fresh in your mind as you go through each paper.
- Grade for approximately 1-2 hours at a time. This amount of time is ideal for developing a rhythm to get through a number of assignments without burning out.
- If you are receiving written in-class assignments, ask students to write legibly and pay attention to their word and line spacing so that their work will be easier to read. You might even consider asking all students to write on the same type of paper so that formatting for written work can be more standardized.
How to Create a Technical Writing Rubric
Published on Sep 12, 2020 in processes by Karl Hughes 7 minute read
Hiring is always hard, but the more specialized your hire is, the harder it will be to fulfill. If you’re managing a technical blog and you want to stop writing everything yourself , you’ll need to recruit and hire technical writers to help you out.
While traditionally used in education, rubrics are a fantastic tool for hiring, and I’ve used them for years both as an engineering manager and content manager at Draft. Whether you are bringing on a part-time freelancer or a full-time hire, having a good rubric for content will help you objectively evaluate candidates and keep you focused on the criteria that matter for your job.
What is a Technical Hiring Rubric?
A technical hiring rubric is a document that defines the criteria you use to decide whether a candidate is a good fit for your role or not. It typically includes several attributes upon which you will evaluate candidates and a few levels within each attribute that measure their skill.
How are Rubrics Most Helpful to Writers?
Rubrics let writers gain a better understanding of what you’re looking for in a hire. Providing your writing process rubric up-front allows writers to become intimately familiar with your expectations and needs – encouraging them to rise to the challenge. In some cases, writers may even self-screen themselves, which gives you the greatest amount of qualification during the hiring process.
To effectively use a rubric, you need to apply it consistently using measurable and observable behaviors. This means that a good rubric eliminates hiring by “gut feel” and forces you to stay focused on the characteristics that candidates display throughout the hiring process.
The Draft.dev Technical Writing Rubric
As I started hiring more writers for Draft.dev , I began refining a rubric that would allow me to evaluate them quickly and objectively. Today, I’m sharing this rubric with you so you can use it as a starting point for creating your own hiring rubric.
Our rubric currently has ten attributes that fall within three broad categories. Each of these attributes has 3-4 levels we can use to compare writers. We use this rubric to decide which candidates to bring on during the hiring process and as an ongoing evaluation tool for our existing writers. This strategy helps us consistently provide high-quality technical work for our clients.
You can get a copy of the rubric here or read on for an explanation of how we evaluate writers using this rubric.
How to Write a Rubric
Rubrics are designed to make life easier (and far more efficient). At Draft.dev, we believe in cutting the guesswork right from the get-go with blueprints designed for accessibility and success. Here’s how to write a rubric for writers based on our starting template.
Category 1: Writing
Writing skills are necessary for the kind of work we do at Draft.dev, but defining what it means to be a “good” writer is surprisingly hard. Many people use the, “I know it when I see it” test, but I’ve found that insufficient. There are three attributes I look for in strong writers.
Grammar and spelling errors can be overcome. With tools like Grammarly, we can edit a writer with decent conventions, but submitting samples full of mistakes points to a problem with attention to detail. Every writer makes mistakes, but that doesn’t forgive sloppiness.
Writers who have mastered conventions will submit error-free work and may even spot mistakes in others’ work during the application process.
English is a tough language to master. As such, many non-native writers will struggle to word things in a way that native readers find natural. For example, the phrase, “Let me explain you the reasons I believe this to be true,” is missing a preposition and somewhat strangely worded. It’s not glaringly incorrect, but it shows a deficiency in language that is common among inexperienced writers.
Writers who have strong language skills use engaging words, varied sentence structure, and stylistically sophisticated vocabulary that isn’t overly wordy. It’s tough to do.
Finally, great writers have to be great organizers. While having good content briefs with outlines can help with higher-level structure, the writer will still have to decide how to present sequential information in a way that readers can grok.
To reach the highest level in this attribute, writers must create clear transitions between topics and consistent focus throughout the entire sample piece.
Category 2: Technical
As a technical content agency , Draft.dev’s writers must have specialized experience. While not every piece we produce requires deep knowledge about a specific technical topic, writers must research, understand, and speak to technical topics.
In this context, “development” doesn’t mean software development skills - it means the ability to develop and present an idea. A well-developed piece of writing goes beyond the step-by-step “how” and builds the “why” as well .
A writer who can present their main idea and strongly support it with technical evidence while keeping the “why” central to the work will get full points in this category.
Technical depth describes the writer’s ability to go beyond entry-level writing on the topic at hand. Regurgitation of the “getting started” walkthrough is not that useful for the writing we do with our clients. Writers need to show that they understand the underlying technical justification for their decisions.
Writers who display depth of knowledge usually have years of real-world experience and knowledge of the technology’s inner-workings.
Technical knowledge is spiky. A writer may know a lot about Rust, but nothing about Python, so while they can display depth by diving into the Rust compiler, if none of our clients need Rust writers, their skills aren’t in demand right now. While technical writers usually have two or three areas where they can contribute, their skills have to match up with our clients’ needs to be a good fit.
Writers with unique combinations of skills or experience that happens to match our clients’ technology stack will do the best in this category.
Finally, writers must be technically correct. This is usually linked closely to depth - if a writer can’t go deep on a topic, they are less likely to get the details right - but not always. For example, a writer might create some sample code that doesn’t work even though their explanations are on-point.
Writers will get the most credit in this category when they have no factual errors, and all their assumptions are backed up with evidence or experience.
Category 3: Work
The last category is work habits. Even great writers who are technically qualified may be a bad fit for Draft.dev if they’re not consistent team players. Each of our writers works remotely as an independent contractor, so their ability to communicate, respond positively to feedback, and work independently are important to their success.
While writing skills are evaluated in the first category, our writers must also be responsive, prompt communicators. With clients and writers around the world, we don’t have set “working hours,” but we require writers to respond to emails and requests for revisions within a reasonable amount of time.
The best writers proactively notify their editor with questions or delays as early as possible and communicate their progress along the way.
As a writer, you have to be able to handle feedback - both positive and negative. Edits aren’t a personal attack, so we look for writers who actively seek out feedback. Great writers at Draft.dev enjoy the guidance we offer rather than seeing it as a burden.
Finally, our technical writers have to be able to solve problems independently. This doesn’t mean they can’t ask questions - they should reach out proactively when stuck - but they should start projects early in case anything comes up.
We Can Help You Create Great Technical Blog Content
I hope our rubric helps you hire better technical writers, but I also hope it shows you how tough finding great writers can be. If you’re not sure about hiring your own writers, we might be able to help. At Draft.dev , we write technical content for software engineering blogs using our pool of highly skilled technical writers. We also offer content planning and editing services.
If you’d like to learn more, send me an email or read about our process at Draft.dev .
Technical Writing Rubric FAQ
What is a writing rubric.
A writing rubric is a set of instructions that outline all responsibilities and expectations for a writer. It may include skills, language use, attitudes, and other detailed attributes of a potential hire. Writing rubrics are typically filled out or managed by heads of content, and are used to measure skill or evaluate in writing.
In which way is a rubric most helpful to writers?
Rubrics give writers the greatest amount of context for their work. A specific rubric for content provides context, gives direction, and allows writers to understand expectations before taking on a role or filling a position. This ensures that projects are completed to exact specifications (and to the satisfaction of both parties).
As a writer, when should you look at the rubric that will be used to evaluate your writing?
Writers should constantly refer to a writing rubric while working on their projects. If one is not provided, it’s highly suggested that you create your own rubric instead. Read through what is expected of you before beginning the writing process, and be sure to tag all interested parties with any questions you may have.
By Karl Hughes
Karl is a former startup CTO and the founder of Draft.dev. He writes about technical blogging and content management.
Build a Blog that Software Developers Will Read
The Technical Content Manager’s Playbook is a collection of resources you can use to manage a high-quality, technical blog:
- A template for creating content briefs
- An Airtable publishing calendar
- A technical blogging style guide
- Basics for GSIs
- Advancing Your Skills
Grading Rubrics: Examples of Rubric Creation
Creating a rubric takes time and requires thought and experimentation. Here you can see the steps used to create two kinds of rubric: one for problems in a physics exam for a small, upper-division physics course, and another for an essay assignment in a large, lower-division sociology course.
Physics Exam Problems
In STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), assignments tend to be analytical and problem-based. Often holistic rubrics are the most efficient, consistent, and fair way to grade a problem set. When starting to grade a problem, it is important to think about the relevant conceptual ingredients in the solution. Then look at a sample of student work to get a feel for student mistakes. Decide what rubric you will use (e.g., holistic or analytic, and how many points). Apply the holistic rubric by marking comments and sorting the students’ assignments into stacks (e.g., five stacks if using a five-point scale). Finally, check the stacks for consistency and mark the scores. The following is a sample homework problem from a UC Berkeley Physics Department undergraduate course in quantum mechanics.
Understand Compton scattering and apply the concepts in a calculation. The discovery of Compton scattering was important in the early development of Quantum Mechanics because it illustrates the quantum nature of light and cannot be correctly described using classical electromagnetism.
Desired Traits: Conceptual Elements Needed for the Solution
- Compton scattering for photon: the relationship between the change in photon wavelength and angle of scattering (derived using energy and momentum conservation)
- Relationship between photon wavelength and energy
- How the electron recoil energy relates to the change in photon energy
- How to maximize this relationship
- Evaluate for the given photon energy
A note on analytic rubrics: If you decide you feel more comfortable grading with an analytic rubric, you can assign a point value to each concept. The drawback to this method is that it can sometimes unfairly penalize a student who has a good understanding of the problem but makes a lot of minor errors. Also, one must assign a point-value to every type of error made by your students, and the variety of mistakes can be staggering. Because the analytic method tends to have many more parts, the method can take quite a bit more time to apply. In the end, your analytic rubric should give results that agree with the common-sense assessment of how well the student understood the problem. This sense is well captured by the holistic method.
A holistic rubric, closely based on a rubric by Bruce Birkett and Andrew Elby:
[a] This policy especially makes sense on exam problems, for which students are under time pressure and are more likely to make harmless algebraic mistakes. It would also be reasonable to have stricter standards for homework problems.
Sociology Research Paper
An introductory-level, large-lecture course is a difficult setting for managing a student research assignment. With the assistance of an instructional support team that included a GSI teaching consultant and a UC Berkeley librarian [b] , sociology lecturer Mary Kelsey developed the following assignment:
This was a lengthy and complex assignment worth a substantial portion of the course grade. Since the class was very large, the instructor wanted to minimize the effort it would take her GSIs to grade the papers in a manner consistent with the assignment’s learning objectives. For these reasons Dr. Kelsey and the instructional team gave a lot of forethought to crafting a detailed grading rubric.
- Use and interpretation of data
- Reflection on personal experiences
- Application of course readings and materials
- Organization, writing, and mechanics
For this assignment, the instructional team decided to grade each trait individually because there seemed to be too many independent variables to grade holistically. They could have used a five-point scale, a three-point scale, or a descriptive analytic scale. The choice depended on the complexity of the assignment and the kind of information they wanted to convey to students about their work.
Below are three of the analytic rubrics they considered for the Argument trait and a holistic rubric for all the traits together. Lastly you will find the entire analytic rubric, for all five desired traits, that was finally used for the assignment. Which would you choose, and why?
Three-point scale, simplified three-point scale, numbers replaced with descriptive terms, holistic rubric.
For some assignments, you may choose to use a holistic rubric, or one scale for the whole assignment. This type of rubric is particularly useful when the variables you want to assess just cannot be usefully separated. We chose not to use a holistic rubric for this assignment because we wanted to be able to grade each trait separately, but we’ve completed a holistic version here for comparative purposes.
Final Analytic Rubric
This is the rubric the instructor finally decided to use. It rates five major traits, each on a five-point scale. This allowed for fine but clear distinctions in evaluating the students’ final papers.
[b] These materials were developed during UC Berkeley’s 2005–2006 Mellon Library/Faculty Fellowship for Undergraduate Research program. M embers of the instructional team who worked with Lecturer Kelsey in developing the grading rubric included Susan H askell-Khan, a GSI Center teaching consultant and doctoral candidate in history, and Sarah McDaniel, a teaching librarian with the Doe/Moffitt Libraries.
Technical Writing Grading Rubric SECTION POINTS POSSIBLE POINTS EARNED Flow / Organization / Content (logical and ample flow of content; effective use of criteria; real-world logic and detailed use provided) 25 Effective Use of Graphics (relevant, useful, cited properly, size appropriate, used enough, integrated and explained) 15
The assessment of student writing in engineering courses can vary between simpler analytic rubrics to more complex, holistic rubrics. When “writing-to-learn” is the primary objective of your assignment, a rubric is recommended that focuses more on the technical merit of the student’s content and less on the grammar and mechanics.
The course instructors developed rubrics for the lab reports. These rubrics articulate the criteria on which the reports are graded, such as structure, content, and citations. Students receive the rubric before the lab report is due so that they know what the assignment expectations are.
Our rubric currently has ten attributes that fall within three broad categories. Each of these attributes has 3-4 levels we can use to compare writers. We use this rubric to decide which candidates to bring on during the hiring process and as an ongoing evaluation tool for our existing writers.
Decide what rubric you will use (e.g., holistic or analytic, and how many points). Apply the holistic rubric by marking comments and sorting the students’ assignments into stacks (e.g., five stacks if using a five-point scale). Finally, check the stacks for consistency and mark the scores.
Technical Memo Writing Guidance (take 1): 1. Use logical headings –do not make them wordy . 2. Write as if you are writing to your client, not as if you are writing to your professor as a class report . 3. Brevity is good . 4. But include sufficient technical information such that if another engineer was reviewing your memo she/he
Rubrics for Assessing Students' Technical Writing Skills Traits Cover page Objective-determine the conc of a standard EDTA soln- determine the %CaO in an unknown by titration with EDTA-determine the mg of Ca in a calcium supplement and multivitamin tablet Summary of Results-state avg conc of EDTA with SD as appropriate
Pingus Penguins: Writing Good Instructions activity—Technical Writing Grading Rubric Technical Writing Grading Rubric Points 3 2 1 0 EA The idea is clear and easy to identify and follow. The idea is coming into focus – but it is difficult to identify. It’s confusing. It rambles and there is not a clear point. There is not an idea.
Grading Rubric for Writing Assignment . Your professor may use a slightly different rubric, but the standard rubric at AUR will assess your writing according to the following standards: A (4) B (3) C (2) D/F (1/0) Focus: Purpose Purpose is clear Shows awareness of purpose Shows limited awareness of purpose No awareness