Feedback and Grading

To write is human, to edit is divine. ~Stephen King

The authors bounced back-and-forth about whether to include this section in the book. In the end, our desire to give students as much advantage as possible  for demonstrating good writing and presentation skills by providing a peak behind the curtain won out. That is, we want to show you why your instructor may be so adamant about you writing better. At our educational institution, as with most universities, policies mandate instructors tell students how they’ll be graded. However, the way that is communicated is often not specified and may remain a mystery in some courses.

Here we are devoting an entire chapter of the book to helping students understand their work from an instructor’s perspective. We hope that, by knowing what they are looking for, you will craft your writing or presentation product to satisfy their expectations.

Rubrics

Employers value university credentials (degrees) because they are a relatively safe guarantee of an individual’s ability to think at a pre-identified level about a specific topic. Universities, colleges, and schools use external accreditation institutions (like the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International, AACSB, which certifies the authors’ college) to, among other things, certify to potential employers that its graduates meet a specific standardized curriculum appropriate for the business environment.

In turn, the faculty of the college determine how this curriculum of study will be allocated among the variety of course permutations to create the course catalog. This combination of external certification with faculty allocation is what makes one college’s business education similar to, but unique from, any other college.

The allocation of curriculum requirements is divvied up among courses within the framework of the certification authority into learning outcomes. The accreditation organization dictates a certain amount of overlap, redundancy, and sequencing such that a high school graduate can ascend to a college graduate within a relatively predictable timeframe and a standardized body of knowledge. Therefore, while there is some flexibility in how an instructor will teach a subject, what topics are covered in that course is usually beyond the instructor’s ability to alter.

Typically, the course syllabus is a result of the instructor’s interpretation of his faculty assigned learning outcomes. The unique education, experiences, and abilities of the instructor reflect in what they chooses as a textbook, what they cover in the coursework, and how they structure your assignments. One course may be heavy in reading, another in problem solving, and so on. But ultimately, all students should in theory have comparable knowledge, skills, and abilities upon graduation from a business college.

What is a Rubric?

Merriam-Webster in part defines a rubric as “a guide listing specific criteria for grading or scoring academic papers, projects, or tests”. As indicated by this definition, many instructors use rubrics for general assignment feedback. Before they even start the assignment, the rubric tells a student what they need to do and how their work will be evaluated.

Once the instructor begins assessing the student’s work, it provides a uniform assessment of all student work over the breadth of a single assignment and expedites the delivery of feedback to students. Not only do rubrics ensure consistency across an entire course from one student to the next, from one section to the next, and from one term to another, they also combat potential inherent biases by guiding the assessment. When used rigorously, a rubric is the foundational standard by which a student’s work is assessed and a grade is earned. In turn, rigorous use of rubrics removes the likelihood of both biases (“my instructor didn’t like me”) and chance (“I ended up in a really smart class”).

Sample of a Rubric Used for Scoring Assignments
Figure 5.1 Sample of a Rubric Used for Scoring Assignments

What does this Mean?

In its application, the instructor decides ahead of time how they will evaluate an assignment by creating rubric criteria, giving those criteria weights and levels, and determining how the assignment will fit in terms of importance to the course. High point values allow finer distinction in whole numbers when scoring. Unless the instructor weights assignments, these points relative to other assignment points can make a 1-point deduction a major or trivial matter. For example:

Missing 1-point on a 5-point assignment has the same impact for that assignment as does missing 20 on a 100-point assignment.

A category with 5 assignments each worth 5-points, but weighted as 50% of the course total is a major matter even if compared to 5 other assignments each worth 100-points each.

Why Understand the Rubric?

It is essential to understand the rubric before beginning an assignment. The rubric will show the specific areas which the student will be graded on for a specific assignment, and these categories break down what a student needs to do to receive any given score.

When an instructor designs a course, they start with the course learning outcomes or LOs. Instructors teach to their strengths. That is, if your instructor obtained a Phd from a school known for its rigor in research, wrote their dissertation on a narrowly defined topic, and now publishes extensively on that same topic, expect their course to borrow heavily from this discipline and use assignments that explore this body of knowledge. However, if your instructor is a practitioner who worked extensively in industry without a terminal degree, expect your course to rely heavily on their real world experiences and to offer up similarly related assignments.

Taken together, the assignment prompt and its accompanying rubric, provide a blueprint for what the instructor expects and how they will grade or score your work. Taking the time to understand how your assignment will be assessed will provide a clear plan for how to best complete the assignment.

Understanding Feedback

After receiving a grade and in order to improve for the next assignment, you need to understand why you received a particular grade. Grading styles can vary tremendously among instructors, but the responsibility of understanding their grade and learning from their mistakes always falls on the student. Review their feedback in context of both the original assignment prompt and the rubric. Oftentimes, a low score on an assignment is a result of not following the instructions or providing specific elements of the assignment that were requested in the prompt or evaluated in the rubric.

Key to Common Markups (and how to fix them)

As stated above, feedback and grading styles vary from instructor to instructor. Below is one example of a style of feedback—a list of common errors in writing and explanations for how to fix the error. Instructors may choose to abbreviate on the paper itself and use the list below, or similar, for more detailed explanations. These markups are, in no way, standardized in format. However, the issues they reflect are common in terms of what most instructors look for when giving feedback.

Some instructors may simply place a checkmark in the margin or color-code parts of a student’s report with a highlighter to communicate what was done well and what needs to be improved. For example, green highlights can be used to identify “wins” in the writing—things that are on target or particularly well done; orange highlights can represent “misses” or “errors—things that are incorrect or problematic. Research on student feedback indicates when an instructor gives abundant feedback and corrects every error on the report, she is actually doing a disservice for the student. This research indicates that identifying where an error exists forces the student to self-assess and correct. This practice creates stronger and more sustained learning.

  • Logic Error (LE) – an error in reasoning that renders the argument invalid. Often an unsubstantiated assertion that is delivered with a conviction that makes it sound as though it is fact. It may draw a false conclusion or misuse evidence or language.
    • Use linear, cause-effect thinking without skipping steps;
    • Base arguments on inductive (an accumulation of examples) or deductive (a breaking down of facts) reasoning;
    • Avoid manipulating the evidence of your observations or citations to match your analysis. Instead, when the evidence points in a different direction, change your conclusion.
  • Missing Citation (MC) – potentially plagiarism, it means stating a fact without providing a source for the fact. While it is okay to state facts from the case or a lecture without citing the source, apart from either of these, a citation is required.
  • Missing Evidence (ME) – when there is an opportunity to cite supporting evidence but such evidence is omitted. See also LE and MC.
    • Using adjectives (e.g., big, large and very) typically require some data to make them relevant;
    • Look for opportunities to cite supporting evidence from the case;
    • Use external sources (if available) to support arguments.
  • Passive (P) – technically, this is when the subject, not the object, receives the action of the verb in a sentence. Often, the agent performing the action is not identified. Passive voice often leads to very wordy or evasive writing.
    • Write in terms of a subject, performing an action on an object;
    • Avoid placing the action (verb) after the agent (noun) performing the action.
  • Redundant (R) – a form of wordy writing that uses the same word, phrase or concept repeatedly within a sentence, a paragraph or a case brief.
    • Use variety in your writing; but
    • Avoid using synonyms you don’t understand (see word choice).
  • Sentence Fluency (SF) – the quality of consistently applying skill correctly in the manner of one well-practiced at it. Found when speaking a written passage out loud is difficult.
    • Write how native speakers write;
    • Write how native speakers talk;
    • Avoid overly informal or casual writing that sounds too conversational or casual;
    • Be aware of grammar errors such as subject-verb agreement and plural and singular pronouns.
  • Verb Tense (VT) – verbs show action in English writing and convey past, present and future tenses as in written – writing – will write. Use the proper tense to describe an action on the object in a sentence.
    • Xiao has written;
    • Xiao is writing;
    • Xiao will write.
  • Word Choice (WC) – beyond verb tense, word choice is using a word out of place or in the wrong context.
    • Choose understandable, specific and precise words;
    • Avoid overused and obsolete words.
  • Word Form (WF) – choosing the wrong form of the word, for example, using an adjective instead of a noun.
    • Become familiar with different parts of speech, and how they are used;
    • Check your work to make sure you’re using verbs as action words, nouns as subjects and objects, and adjectives as descriptive words;
    • Adjectives and adverbs are easily confused. An adverb will answer the question “how is something done?”
  • Wordy (W) – verbose, using more words than is necessary. Often it happens when using many general or vague words instead of the correct, professional term – such as, “to improve the differences between how many units sold for each machine used” means the same as “improved machine productivity”.
    • Whenever possible, delete nonessential words from your writing;
    • Avoid using long words when there are good short ones available.

Resources For Getting Better

There are ample resources online for helping learners improve their skills and increase the rate of their learning. Both foreign and domestic students can benefit from the resources below.

  • Learning Express – access via the course LibGuide. This is a subscription service provided through your student fees and offers a variety of online resources for writing, career, and other topics.
  • Everyone’s an Author by Lunsford, Ede, Moss and Papper, 2012, ISBN-13: 978-0393912012, book available in OSU Bookstore or Amazon.
  • Purdue Online Writing Lab – a popular and useful writing resource of Purdue University.
  • 12 Common Writing Mistakes – Professors John and Roslyn Kuzmich.
  • Common English Mistakes Made by Native Chinese Students – Philip Guo, Assistant Professor of Computer Science at the University of Rochester.
  • Subject-Verb Agreement – Towson University writing support.
  • Don’t just practice writing, be focused in your practice! Read business-related periodicals to get familiar with the style and specialized language of business. Consider listening to popular business stories as well. Most of these sources also offer free content to your mobile device. These are just a few common suggestions, many others are available.
  • Wall Street Journal
  • Fortune Magazine
  • Harvard Business Review
  • CNN Money

Exercises for Getting Better

Avoiding plagiarism

Answer the following question in a paragraph:

What is plagiarism and what are the common causes of it?

Key: See Keeping writing honest and avoiding plagiarism section

Writing a counterargument

Look at the counterargument paragraph from a student’s writing below and do the following.

Identify where the author turns against and turns back to their argument?

How do you know?

What might the student’s thesis be?

How could you improve this paragraph?

Admittedly, the vegetarian diet can be beneficial for some individuals. It is true that for people who have health problems, such as high blood pressure, a diet full of vegetables alleviate some of their health issues. However, meat provides people with various nutrients which vegetables and fruits cannot give, allowing the general population to lead a much healthier lifestyle if they do consume meat. More importantly, people’s dietary habits vary across regions: for instance, people living near the Arctic tend to regard meat as their main dish, as vegetables are difficult to grow in that area.

Key:

  1. The author turns against the original argument in the first sentence after “admittedly” by acknowledging the other side of the argument.
  2. We know this because “admittedly” signals the turn against, and “however” signals the turn back, which is followed by support for the thesis.
  3. The thesis would be “a diet containing meat is healthier than a vegetarian diet” or something similar.
  4. Structurally, this is a fine paragraph, but there is a lack of support for both the turn against and turn back to the thesis. The author would have a stronger argument by including examples of nutrients which cannot be found in fruits and vegetables and also developing the example about people in the Arctic. Currently, it provides little support because it is so brief.

Levels of thinking – understanding the assignment requirements

Look at the two assignment prompts below and answer the questions.

  1. What are the key verbs in each prompt?
  2. How do these words help you know how to approach the prompt?
  3. According to Bloom’s Taxonomy, what level of thinking does the prompt require?

Describe the complete industry value chain for the cereal manufacturing business. What role does each sector (primary, secondary, tertiary) play in getting cereal from farmland to table?

Identify one of Company X’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, or threats. Then, make a persuasive argument for how that factor will make the biggest impact on the firm’s success.

Key: The key verb in the first prompt is “describe”, and requires a student to provide a description of the cereal manufacturing process. “Describe” falls under the lowest category of Bloom’s Taxonomy. This prompt does not require more than a basic and descriptive response. In the second prompt, the keywords are “identify” and “make a persuasive argument”. Like “describe”, “identify” falls under the lowest level, but this prompt also requires students to “persuade”, which is the highest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. In this case, writing a counterargument could be part of persuading.

Transition words

Look at the paragraphs below, which are in response to the prompt: Describe the complete industry value chain for the cereal manufacturing business. What role does each sector (primary, secondary, tertiary) play in getting cereal from farmland to table?

Both paragraphs contain the same content but they have different transition words. Look at the words in red in each paragraph. As a whole, which paragraph has a better flow?

The primary sector business provides the raw materials for the manufacturers. First, farmers and growers must purchase seeds of wheat, oats, corn and rice from seed suppliers then plant and harvest their crop. Second, they supply wheat, oats, corn and rice to cereal manufacturers. Third, the cereal manufacturer needs to get sugar, cocoa and edible colorings from other suppliers. Also, paper mills provide manufacturers with cardboards and envelopes. After the grains, sugars and paper products are gathered and transported to the factory, the products are produced and assembled, as the first stage in the secondary sector.
The primary sector business provides the raw materials for the manufacturers. In order to do this, farmers and growers must purchase seeds of wheat, oats, corn and rice from seed suppliers then plant and harvest their crop. After harvest, they supply these grains to cereal manufacturers. Meanwhile, the manufacturer needs to get sugar, cocoa and edible colorings from other suppliers. As for the packaging, paper mills provide manufacturers with cardboards and envelopes. Once the products are gathered and transported to the factory, they are produced and assembled, as the first stage in the secondary sector.

Key: The second paragraph is stronger overall. This is because there are more advanced transitions used. In the first paragraph, the use of “first” is very basic, whereas “In order to do this” connects connects refers back to “provides the raw materials” with the use of “this”. Similarly, use of “second” is very basic while “after harvest” connects back to the sentence before it. In that same sentence, it is not necessary to list the grains, as is done in the first paragraph. Using “these” grains is a clear substitute. When comparing “also” and “as for the packaging”, the later provides a nice transition to the next topic—packaging. In the last sentence, it is not necessary list the names of all the products again, “products” will do.

Grammar, Word Choice and Writing Concisely

Rewrite the sentences below to make them clear, concise, and grammatically correct.

1. Katarina should talk to managers to shape their ideas to understand if these changes have to happen and what is probably going to happen after these changes and what is missing from the plan.

2. By analyzing the case we can know that workforce planning possibly can make the biggest impact on Company X’s success.

3. The flat organizational structure in Company X enables employees to communicate with management directly, helping the task distribution and feedback become more precisely and efficiently.

4. The old operating system is not able to supply data that is well-organized to employees, so they cannot accurately foresee and make precise preparations to the problems.

5. From the SWOT analysis, it can clearly be seen that Company X’s strengths are the way its supply chain is efficient and it how loyal it’s suppliers are.

Key: Possible answers.

  1. She should get the management’s opinion to determine whether the changes are necessary, the potential results of the changes and what the plan lacks.
  2. Workforce planning can have the greatest impact on Company X’s success.
  3. Company X’s flat organizational structure enables direct communication, helps task distribution and allows for precise and efficient feedback.
  4. The old operating system fails to supply well-organized data to employees, which doesn’t allow for accurate forecasting and anticipation of problems.
  5. The SWOT analysis shows that Company X’s strengths are its efficient supply chain and supplier loyalty.

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Business Writing Style Guide by John Morris & Julie Zwart is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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