Research Paper Rubric Graduate School

Grading and Performance Rubrics

What are Rubrics?

A rubric is a scoring tool that explicitly represents the performance expectations for an assignment or piece of work. A rubric divides the assigned work into component parts and provides clear descriptions of the characteristics of the work associated with each component, at varying levels of mastery. Rubrics can be used for a wide array of assignments: papers, projects, oral presentations, artistic performances, group projects, etc. Rubrics can be used as scoring or grading guides, to provide formative feedback to support and guide ongoing learning efforts, or both.

Advantages of Using Rubrics

Using a rubric provides several advantages to both instructors and students. Grading according to an explicit and descriptive set of criteria that is designed to reflect the weighted importance of the objectives of the assignment helps ensure that the instructor’s grading standards don’t change over time. Grading consistency is difficult to maintain over time because of fatigue, shifting standards based on prior experience, or intrusion of other criteria. Furthermore, rubrics can reduce the time spent grading by reducing uncertainty and by allowing instructors to refer to the rubric description associated with a score rather than having to write long comments. Finally, grading rubrics are invaluable in large courses that have multiple graders (other instructors, teaching assistants, etc.) because they can help ensure consistency across graders and reduce the systematic bias that can be introduced between graders.

Used more formatively, rubrics can help instructors get a clearer picture of the strengths and weaknesses of their class. By recording the component scores and tallying up the number of students scoring below an acceptable level on each component, instructors can identify those skills or concepts that need more instructional time and student effort.

Grading rubrics are also valuable to students. A rubric can help instructors communicate to students the specific requirements and acceptable performance standards of an assignment. When rubrics are given to students with the assignment description, they can help students monitor and assess their progress as they work toward clearly indicated goals. When assignments are scored and returned with the rubric, students can more easily recognize the strengths and weaknesses of their work and direct their efforts accordingly.

Examples of Rubrics

Here are links to a diverse set of rubrics designed by Carnegie Mellon faculty and faculty at other institutions. Although your particular field of study and type of assessment activity may not be represented currently, viewing a rubric that is designed for a similar activity may provide you with ideas on how to divide your task into components and how to describe the varying levels of mastery.

Paper Assignments


  • Example 1: Capstone Project in Design This rubric describes the components and standard of performance from the research phase to the final presentation for a senior capstone project in the School of Design, CMU.
  • Example 2: Engineering Design Project This rubric describes performance standards on three aspects of a team project: Research and Design, Communication, and Team Work.

Oral Presentations

Class Participation/Contributions

  • Example 1: Discussion Class This rubric assesses the quality of student contributions to class discussions. This is appropriate for an undergraduate-level course, CMU.
  • Example 2: Advanced Seminar This rubric is designed for assessing discussion performance in an advanced undergraduate or graduate seminar. 

Scoring rubrics are descriptive scoring schemes developed to assess any student performance whether it's written or oral, online or face-to-face.Scoring rubrics are especially well suited for evaluating complex tasks or assignments such as: written work (e.g., assignments, essay tests, papers, portfolios); presentations (e.g., debates, role plays); group work; or other types of work products or performances (e.g., artistic works, portfolios). Scoring rubrics are assignment-specific; criteria are different for each assignment or test. It is a way to make your criteria and standards clear to both you and your students.

Good scoring rubrics:

  • Consist of a checklist of items, each with an even number of points. For example, two-point rubrics would indicate that the student either did or did not perform the specified task. Four or more points in a rubric are common and indicate the degree to which a student performed a given task.
  • Are criterion based. That is, the rubric contains descriptive criteria for acceptable performance that are meaningful, clear, concise, unambiguous, and credible--thus ensuring inter-rater reliability.
  • Are used to assess only those behaviors that are directly observable.
  • Require a single score based on the overall quality of the work or presentation.
  • Provide a better assessment and understanding of expected or actual performance.

Rubric Template (PDF)

Sample Rubric for Quizzes and Homework (PDF)

Why Develop Scoring Rubrics?

Here are some reasons why taking the time to construct a grading rubric will be worth your time:

  • Make grading more consistent and fair.
  • Save you time in the grading process.
  • Help identify students' strengths and weaknesses so you can teach more effectively.
  • To help students understand what and how they need to improve.

Guidelines for Developing a Scoring Rubric

Step 1: Select a project/assignment for assessment.

Example: Work in small groups to write and present a collaborative research paper.

Step 2: What performance skill(s) or competency(ies) are students demonstrating through their work on this project?

Example: Ability to work as part of a team.

Step 3: List the traits you'll assess when evaluating the project--in other words, ask: "What counts in my assessment of this work?" Use nouns or noun phrases to name traits, and avoid evaluative language. Limit the number of traits to no more than seven. Each trait should represent a key teachable attribute of the overall skill you're assessing.

Coherence and Organization
Graphics and visuals

Step 4: Decide on the number of gradations of mastery you'll establish for each trait and the language you'll use to describe those levels.

Five points of gradation:

5=Proficient4=Clearly Competent3=Acceptable2=Limited1=Attempted

Four points of gradation:


Step 5: For each trait write statements that describe work at each level of mastery. If, for example, you have seven traits and five gradations, you'll have 35 descriptive statements in your rubric. Attempt to strike a balance between over-generalizations and task-specificity. For the trait "coherence and organization" in a four-point rubric:

Exceptional:Thesis is clearly stated and developed; specific examples are appropriate and clearly develop thesis; conclusion is clear; ideas flow together well; good transitions; succinct but not choppy; well-organized.
Admirable:Most information presented in logical sequence; generally very organized but better transitions between ideas is needed.
Acceptable:Concept and ideas are loosely connected; lacks clear transitions; flow and organization are choppy.
Amateur:Presentation of ideas is choppy and disjointed; doesn't flow; development of thesis is vague; no apparent logical order to writing

Step 6: Design a format for presenting the rubric to students and for scoring student work.

Step 7: Test the rubric and fine tune it based on feedback from colleagues and students.

Source: Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment, Barbara E. Walvoord, Virginia Johnson Anderson, Thomas A. Angelo (Foreword by) (1998).

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