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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.

Contributors:Lindsey Macdonald
Last Edited: 2017-11-06 01:31:10

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

Examples of rubrics suitable for engineering write-to-learn assignments

Simplest—holistic rubric: Writing assignments get a single score based on an overall assessment:

   3 – Effective

   Technical answer has an appropriate level of detail and correct          usage of technical terms and concepts. Response is clearly and concisely written.

   2 – Partially Effective

Technical answer has minor mistakes in logic or usage of technical terms and concepts.

   1 – Ineffective

Technical answer has major mistakes in logic or usage of technical terms and concepts.




More detailed—analytic rubric: Different aspects of the written responses are each assigned a point value.



Demonstrated conceptual knowledge


Quality of support / explanation


All aspects or parts of question addressed


Spelling and grammar


Documentation and Sources




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.



Most detailed—analytic rubric: Different aspects of written responses are each assigned a point value based on specific descriptions of each grade division.



Excellent (3)

Acceptable (2)

Unacceptable (1)

Conceptual knowledge

Technically effective; writer applies concepts and terms accurately.

Mostly effective and accurate; might have small errors in understanding or applying terms.

Technical content is not effective; concepts and/or terms do not demonstrate understanding.

Writing content

Writing style is clear, logical, and concise; student has developed their professional ethos by proofreading

Writing style is generally readable; student may not have sufficiently proofread

Writing style is difficult to read, with many distracting errors that detract from the student’s professional ethos.




Tips to streamline the grading process for written work:

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