ERIC Identifier: ED399562
Publication Date: 1996-00-00
Author: Hyslop, Nancy
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Reading English and Communication Bloomington IN.
Using Grading Guides To Shape and Evaluate Business Writing.
Every day several million business letters, memos, reports, manuals,
proposals, and brochures are written, many of which are wordy and disorganized,
redundant, poorly punctuated and filled with errors in grammar (Blake & Bly,
1991). Stephen Gottlieb (1992) traces 2 major efforts to improve business and
professional writing and concludes that "the teaching of fundamentals of clear
communication to future business leaders...is a very valuable technique for
improving the flow of information from business to the public."
Unfortunately, the best methods to use to teach "the fundamentals of clear
communication" remains a subject of considerable controversy (Kelly, 1991;
Brand, 1992). Today, business communications teachers are charged with the
responsibility of teaching students to use active voice, avoid long sentences,
use simple language, break writing into short sections, use specific and
concrete terms, and organize for grammar, syntax, and mechanics as directed by
both Davis and Stohrer (1989) and Blake and Bly (1991). At the same time they
are warned to avoid being too picky, too arbitrary and generally unhelpful. They
are told that steady red-marking of errors will bewilder and frustrate students
who cannot profit from an overload of corrections (White, 1994).
This Digest will provide a rationale for developing grading guides and
describe the methods business communications teachers can use to construct and
employ guides to provide students with quality writing instruction, while
avoiding the pitfalls of assessment that White calls both "chaotic and
RATIONALE FOR USING GRADING GUIDES
grading guides can be a time-consuming and tedious task, guides benefit the
business communications students in 3 significant ways:
*First, many students come to business communications classes today having
been trained by English teachers with a background in literature. Consequently,
these students have been encouraged to use complex rather than clear
expressions, to work for a colorful tone rather than use plain language, and to
write long, complex sentences rather than short concise sentences. They are more
comfortable with imagery and symbolism than numbers and charts (McKeown, 1992).
Grading guides provide these students with the specific criteria for effective
business writing, as outlined in the works of both Davis and Stohrer (1989) and
Blake and Bly (1991), not only during prewriting instruction but also during the
critical rewriting process.
*In addition, Edward M. White, in "Teaching and Assessing Writing" (1994),
argues that "the educational purpose of responding to and evaluating student
writing ought to be the same as the purpose of the writing class: to improve
student writing." Grading guides provide an objective method of showing students
what works and does not work in the documents they generate. These guides
provide the kind of response that "allows the writer to understand and respect
the reasons for that judgment" (White).
*Finally, The Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) designed by the Educational
Testing Service (ETS) as a test of analytical writing, has been instituted as a
regular part of the Graduate Management Admissions Test and is strongly
supported by MBA program administrators (Rogers & Rymer, 1995). The AWA
requires the test takers to compose a complete piece of writing and measures
sentence- and word-level language skills.
Business communications teachers can develop grading guides for writing
assignments similar to the AWA scoring guides which outline the following
criteria for measuring effective analytical writing skills: critical analysis of
the issue or the argument; development of support through reasons and/or
examples; organization of the material logically; facility in language (for
example, syntax, diction); and control of the conventions of standard English
(grammar, usage, and mechanics). In this way, teachers can better prepare
students for the kind of evaluation they will encounter when applying to
DEVELOPING GRADING GUIDES
Based on the research of Cooper
and Odell (1977) and others, teachers can construct (1) skills analysis grading
guides and/or (2) holistic scoring guides that will enhance prewriting
instruction, guide students during the rewriting process, and facilitate
objective and constructive evaluation of the written product.
SKILLS ANALYSIS GRADING GUIDE
The teacher first determines
the specific writing skills he/she intends to emphasize for a particular
For example, if students are writing a "bad news" business letter, the
teacher may instruct students to (1) use the indirect (inductive) method of
development; (2) use active voice and careful pronoun reference; (3) write
short, clear, and concise sentences and paragraphs; (4) follow correct letter
form; and (5) use appropriate grammar, spelling, and punctuation. These criteria
are listed on a grading guide with the numbers 1 (low) to 5 (high) following
each criterion statement. When giving prewriting instruction, the teacher
explains each criterion that is new to the students, giving examples, etc.
Next the teacher tells students that the letter will be evaluated solely
according to the 25-point criteria on this guide. The teacher should direct
students to refer to the guide after they have composed a rough draft of their
letter and consider each criterion as they rewrite a final draft.
Finally, the teacher evaluates each letter according to the criteria on the
guide. The problem areas are indicated on the students' papers, and the teacher
scores the corresponding criteria from (1) low to (5) high.
HOLISTIC GRADING GUIDE
The teacher determines the general
characteristics of quality he/she wishes to assess. For example, if students
(employees) are to write a brief memo/report in which they inform the reader
(the manager of the department) about a problem that exists in the department,
the characteristic of quality can be described as "the ability to make plain or
intelligible a situation which is not known by the reader."
The teacher constructs the following scoring guide which unambiguously
defines various levels of proficiency using a 6-point scale:
Level 6 (Excellent): Papers in this category shape the facts into a highly
structured, intelligent statement. All of the material is pertinent, necessary
to an understanding of the situation. The material is concise, yet
comprehensive, covering all of the major areas of the problem. The writer has
provided specific examples, details, and/or explanations. Punctuation, grammar,
and spelling are correct according to standard written English.
Level 4 (Acceptable): Papers in this category are accurate and clearly
stated. Eighty percent of the material is pertinent and covers most of the major
areas of the problem; however, these papers lack specific examples, details,
and/or explanations. Spelling, grammar, and punctuation are 85% correct.
Level 1 (Unacceptable): Papers in this category present information that is
not accurate or present information in such a way that it might easily be
Even experienced writers often need help in detecting and diagnosing text
problems (Schriver, 1990). Although time-consuming to construct, Skills Analysis
and Holistic Guides help student writers learn to detect and diagnose their own
problems. These guides also facilitate specific, focused instruction while
avoiding the pitfalls of harsh, subjective, and unfocused criticism. They help
the business communication teacher provide the kind of classroom instruction
that can eventually enable students to become business writers who "...express
ideas in a lively, authoritative, and original way" (Blake & Bly, 1991).
Blake, Gary, and Robert W. Bly (1991). The
Elements of Business Writing. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company. Brand,
Alice G. (1992). "Writing Assessment at the College Level." ERIC Digest.
Bloomington, IN: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills. [ED 345
Cooper, Charles R., and Lee Odell (1977). Evaluating Writing: Describing,
Measuring, Judging. Urbana, IL: National Council Teachers of English. [ED 143
Davis, Carl L., and Freda Stohrer (1989). "On the Job Writing: Quality and
Quantity in Selected Department of Defense Professionals." Paper presented at
the Annual Meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication
(Seattle). [ED 305 563]
Gottlieb, Stephen S. (1992). "Clear Writing in the Professions." ERIC Digest.
Bloomington, IN: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills. [ED 343
Kelly, Rebecca (1991). "Teaching Technical Communication." ERIC Digest.
Bloomington, IN: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills. [ED 326
McKeown, Tom (1992). Powerful Business Writing. Toronto: McGraw-Hill-Ryerson.
Rogers, Priscilla S., and Jane Rymer (1995). "What Is the Relevance of the
GMAT Analytical Writing Assessment for Management Education? A Critical
Analysis, Part I." Management Communication Quarterly, 8(3), 347-67. [EJ 498
Schriver, Karen A. (1990). "Evaluating Text Quality: The Continuum from
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