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Rubrics For Graduate Research Papers

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. 

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Sample Rubric for Grading a Research Paper

[Download Microsoft Word Document]
Visual PresentationCover page with relevant info, including descriptive title.
Section headings.
Good graphics, with appropriate citations.
Clean and professional looking.
Cover page.
Section headings.
Graphics included.
Professional looking.
Most relevant information present.
Some section headings, captions, or graphics used.
Looks like H.S. paper.
Dirty or ragged appearance.
Missing titles, captions, headings, name of author.
Not professional.
AbstractAbstract is proper length.
Highly informative, complete and easy to understand.
Appropriate vocabulary is used.
Abstract makes you want to read the paper.
Abstract is proper length.
Informative, complete and understandable.
Appropriate vocabulary is used.
Abstract is proper length.
Somewhat informative and understandable.
Abstract is not the proper length.
Not very informative or understandable.
StructureThesis is clear, easy to find, and appropriate to the assignment.
Thesis is supported by the rest of the paper.
Paper contains a "roadmap" for the reader.
There is a logical flow to the topics/arguments.
Conclusion follows clearly from the arguments presented.
Thesis is clear and appropriate.
Thesis fairly well supported.
Paper is fairly well organized.
Conclusion follows from the rest of the paper.
Thesis is fairly clear.
Inconsistent support for thesis.
Paper weakly organized.
Conclusion is acceptable.
Thesis unclear and/or inappropriate.
Thesis not supported.
Paper is not organized.
Conclusion doesn't follow from the rest of the paper.
ResearchThe evidence comes from a wide variety of valid sources.
The bibliography is complete and reflects the appropriate sources.
The evidence used reflects multiple views.
The evidence comes from many valid sources.
The bibliography is complete.
The evidence used reflects multiple views.
Valid sources are inconsistently used.
The bibliography is missing some pieces.
The evidence seldom comes from valid sources.
The bibliography is missing significant information.
ThinkingArguments are pertinent to the topic.
Arguments are logical, and supported with evidence.
The key arguments have been made - no major points have been left out.
Arguments are pertinent to the topic.
Arguments are fairly logical and reasonably supported.
Most key arguments have been made.
Arguments are not consistently pertinent, logical or supported.
Few key arguments have been made.
Arguments not pertinent.
Arguments rarely, if at all, logical and supported.
Almost no key arguments have been made.
Interest FactorLanguage and style appropriate for intended audience.
Paper presents well-developed analysis and synthesis.
There is nuance, inference and subtlety to the paper.
Main points are memorable.
Readers is very engaged.
Language and style of paper appropriate.
Paper presents reasonable analysis and synthesis.
There is a little nuance, inference and subtlety.
Main points clear.
Reader is engaged.
Language and style only fair.
Less-developed analysis and synthesis.
Nuance, inference and subtlety lacking.
Main points present, not well made.
Language and style poor.
Analysis and synthesis lacking.
Main points not discernible.

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