1. Daggett, Luann M. DSN, RN

Article Content

The ability to express oneself in writing is an essential component outcome of most nursing education programs. To be effective, professional nurses must have excellent verbal and written communication skills. Writing is a skill that can only be developed through practice and experience. In addition to perfecting writing skills, papers and other formal writing assignments are helpful in developing and evaluating critical thinking in students. Unfortunately, students frequently enter university programs with limited writing skills and little experience using style guides, particularly the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA),1 the format required by most schools of nursing.


Nursing faculty are frequently confronted with the onerous responsibility of teaching students to write in APA format. Reading and evaluating large numbers of student papers can be an arduous and time-consuming process. Instructors may avoid assigning written papers because of time restrictions and the effort required to grade large numbers of student papers in a course. Many schools of nursing are using online course software (Web-CT, Blackboard, Desire 2 Learn) to replace or supplement traditional classroom activities. This software facilitates the task of reviewing and grading student assignments by allowing students to upload and submit files containing their papers electronically. Instructors can download the files and use the edit functions of their word processing program to correct, edit, and insert comments before returning the reviewed papers to the students via the online software.


Although technology has improved the review process, as an instructor, I frequently found myself writing the same comments over and over again on student papers. To facilitate the review process, I have developed a grading rubric that addresses the most common errors found in student papers (Figure 1). Error categories in the rubric relate to title page, text formatting, spelling, grammar, punctuation, and references. Each type of error is listed, defined, and assigned a code number in the rubric. Instead of writing out editorial comments, the instructor simply highlights the error and gives the corresponding code number. Students are instructed to refer to the rubric as well as their APA manual when interpreting the comments. This rubric is by no means a complete list of all errors; however, it includes those occurring most commonly. A copy of the rubric is placed in the course syllabus and students are oriented to the use of the rubric during orientation on the first day of class. If the course is presented online, the rubric and instructions for use are posted under Course Materials. Presented as a checklist, the rubric can be used by students to proofread their papers prior to submission.

Figure 1 - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure 1. Grading rubric.

The use of this rubric has saved me countless hours grading and editing student papers. The turnaround time between submission and return is significantly shortened, allowing students to receive feedback in a timely manner. Students find the rubric useful in preparing their assignments as well as interpreting instructor feedback, and correcting format and grammatical errors.




1. American Psychological Association. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. 5th ed. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; 2002. [Context Link]