The following list of tips are meant to help in the evaluation of student writing, whether that means giving a grade or helping students learn and revise:
Draw a distinction between feedback and evaluation:
Feedback: Primary purpose is to respond as a reader to students’ work in progress. Comments teach students to improve.
Evaluation: Primary purpose is to give a grade. Comments generally justify the grade.
Don’t succumb to the temptation to be your students’ editor: Ask yourself if students are learning from the edits you make to their writing or if they simply click on “Accept all changes.”
Don’t spend too much time with each paper (lest you succumb to the point above): You should not spend more time responding to a student’s paper than he or she spent writing it!
Try to build on the strengths in students’ papers: Consider what the student did well and how revision might be focused on those strengths.
Keep in mind what you would like students to apply to the next paper (or the next talk or the next class): Your evaluation can help students learn and apply that learning to subsequent tasks.
Consider how the goals for this assignment interact with your course goals: Consider the continuity between what students might learn from this assignment and what you want them to learn from the course as a whole.
If grading criteria are clear, grading is easy! Establish grading criteria before students write and share those criteria with students so that they have a tangible target/goal.
Use a rubric or scoring guide: With established grading criteria, you can then create a grid showing each criterion, its point value, and space for a comment. Such scoring guides make evaluating writing a much more streamlined process.
Read large numbers of papers strategically: Read through your stack of papers and then separate into an upper half and a lower half. Decide the grade range for each half (typically A/B and C/D).
Use a model paper as an example of an A+: A model paper, ideally with your annotations to point out what makes it a model, can provide students with a tangible goal.