Elements of Quality Writing for the Web, Part 2: Lessons from Rubrics
In the first part of this series, I included some of my basic observations about what distinguished quality writing for the web from poor web writing, but these were just my observations. How can we be sure that these standards are not just my peevish tendencies? I propose that one way we could get a context for more "universal" standards of quality writing is to look at grading rubrics.
When I first started teaching, one of the hardest lessons I had to learn was how to grade student papers. I'd been reading and writing for more than 20 years, so I felt like I had a sense of what made some writing better than others, but how could I break that down into standards that could be used to divide student writing into A's, B's, C's, D's, and F's in a way that students could understand and accept as fair? The answer used by many universities, testing facilities, and others is the grading rubric. For those who haven't taught (or graded essays for Kaplan), a rubric is a systematic scoring guideline that lays out specific qualities that writing must attain to be considered "A" quality, "B" quality, and so on.
Although not intended for the purpose of evaluating web writing, I believe these rubrics can point the way toward what is generally considered good writing, which can then be extrapolated toward evaluating web writing. And, to make sure it's not just reinforcing lessons I learned at the University of Kansas, we'll use rubrics from other teachers readily available on the Internet.
First, from the rubric for freshman composition at Winthrop University:
An A paper is extraordinary work that more than fulfills the requirements of the assignment. This essay tackles the topic in an innovative way, with a clear sense of audience and purpose, an insightful thesis, and an appropriate and effective organization. The structure is carefully planned; each section of the essay develops the thesis with logical arguments and specific, conclusive evidence which has been interpreted and clearly related to the writer's point. The style is energetic and precise: the sentence structure is varied and the words are carefully chosen. How the writer says things is as excellent as what the writer says. There is evidence of careful editing since the essay contains few grammatical and/or mechanical errors and, if necessary, is correctly documented using MLA format.
Now, from a sample rubric at Troy University:
Merits a Grade of A—Excellent in all areas
- Originality and insight
- Clear organization
- Use of specific evidence and examples
- Superior control of language
- Avoidance of errors in grammar and usage
- Audience awareness (cited in 2 of 3 rubrics, probably assumed in the higher-level rubric since it's directed at English majors)
Now, you may argue (as some political factions have argued) that university education is biased and does not reflect real-world standards in anything, let alone quality of writing. Tomorrow we will look at what Google has said about quality in writing from the standpoint of search ranking and see if it corresponds to the standards we have developed so far.
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