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Evaluating a particular piece of student writing requires, in part, subjective judgment by your instructor, for very few of the writing skills stressed in freshman composition can be measured objectively. Such matters as correct spelling, which do lend themselves easily to absolute rights and wrongs, make up only a small portion of the skills one needs to communicate successfully in writing. Occasionally, then, you might find yourself troubled by the subjective nature of this evaluation and questioning whether there are widely accepted standards for good writing.

Explanation of writing standards

The explanations below offer broad definitions of the criteria by which your instructor will likely be judging your writing. Very likely, early in the course, your professor will highlight one or another of these categories for your particular attention and, therefore, give less emphasis to another category in evaluating your work. As the semester progresses and you have the opportunity to practice skills in each of these areas, your writing will be judged by its success in each of the categories. Consequently, it may seem your instructor is applying tougher standards at the end of the course than at the beginning. This is likely to be the case; you are expected to improve your skills.


The ideas in the paper are clearly related to the topic and go beyond popular clichés. The writer shows insight and reaches logical conclusions.

The ideas are clearly expressed but conventional.

The ideas are barely recognizable; the paper says little.


The paper starts at a good point, has a sense of movement, gets somewhere and then stops. It has an underlying and flexible plan that the reader can follow. Transitions between and within paragraphs arise from meaning.

The paper exhibits some structure, but it either does not fit the content or is overly apparent. Transitions are mechanical.

The paper wanders, showing little or no discernible sequence of thought. Major points are repeated rather than developed. The paper lacks transitions within and between paragraphs.

Relevant details/supporting evidence

Generalizations in the paper are supported by extensive and concrete detail. Opinions are supported by examples, facts, distinctions, definitions and logical arguments.

Too few details are included, and most are insufficiently concrete or vivid. Opinions are only partially supported by evidence. Evidence may be obvious or unconvincing.

Very few specific or concrete details appear. Opinions are asserted without evidence.


The writer demonstrates an expressive and precise vocabulary. There is a clear sense of audience and effective use of tone. Sentence length and structure are varied to reflect meaning and rhetorical emphasis.

Limited choice or words, often misused, and unidiomatic phrasing are typical of this paper. The student has used an inconsistent voice or a tone inappropriate to the audience. Sentences are simple and repetitious; logical subordination relationships are often ignored.


The paper has almost no misspellings and is generally free of mechanical errors or grammatical difficulties.errors or grammatical difficulties.

Occasional misspellings, some grammatical and punctuation problems occur in the paper.

There are many misspellings, frequent problems with subject-verb agreement, shifts in tense, run-ons and fragments in the paper.