A research paper rubric

It’s not uncommon for first-year students to get stressed when they see that the instructions for the paper they are assigned include the line, “Consult the rubric for details.” But there’s actually nothing terrifying about a research paper rubric. Quite the opposite, actually. If done right, it can help you to write an excellent paper and get a high grade for it.

A research paper rubric

What’s a rubric

A rubric is the guidelines that students receive when they are assigned a paper. Shorter papers don’t have one, just a short prompt to respond to. But longer and more important (grade-wise) ones typically come with a rubric. It explains the structure of the paper, how the grade is broken down, and what the standards are for each section or criterion.

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The common feature of a research paper rubric is that it includes several grade levels with a detailed explanation of each. For example, from the part dedicated to formatting and reference, you can learn how many mistakes you are allowed to make to still get the full formatting points (which is usually zero to a couple), half of them, and so on.

What’s typically in a rubric

Rubrics vary. A common rubric organization is by criteria. Such rubrics can address the purpose, content, and organization of the paper, as well as length and word choice, among other things. First-year students often struggle with them. It might be a good idea to contract writing assistance services if you’re unsure about anything in the rubric.

But there are other options. What’s in a rubric depends on how meticulous your professor is, the university standards, and so on. Another common way a rubric is organized is by the sections the paper is supposed to include (introduction, purpose statement, literature review, and more). The research paper rubric addresses what is expected from each of the sections.

Types of research paper rubrics

Few colleges and universities actually have a uniform rubric standard that all professors have to follow. It is more common for each instructor to develop the rubric they use based on the course, what assignments they typically give, and what is convenient for them personally. But the most common types of rubrics are:


Holistic rubrics feature levels of performance (such as Excellent, Above Average, Sufficient, and so on) but don’t break down the grade into separate criteria. They can be confusing because not all professors bother to explain where the performance level you got came from.


An analytic research paper rubric is criteria-based. It includes a list of criteria on the left and the levels of performance with detailed explanations on the right. So you can “Excellent” for organization yet only “Sufficient” for content.

A checklist

Checklists are the simplest type of rubrics. They basically list everything that should be in the paper and break down how many points each element is worth. Checklists are very easy to follow. Once a student is done with the paper, they can (and should) just go through a checklist to make sure that they haven’t missed anything.

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